Gonzales County will implement a new emergency mass notification service called Hyper-Reach beginning Jan. 1, 2024, after commissioners took action at their regular meeting Monday, Nov. 13.
Hyper-Reach will replace the current Code Red/OnSolve system in use by Gonzales County Emergency Management and county employees will begin receiving training on the new system starting Dec. 1. Meanwhile, the contract with Code Red will end Dec. 31 after the county gives its 30-day notice.
Emergency Management Coordinator Jimmy Harless said the county began contracting with Code Red before he was hired. He said he was intrigued by the features that Hyper-Reach includes that exceed the capabilities of Code Red.
“Technically, to be able to utilize (Code Red), it's kind of intense and it's clumsy, so we don't utilize it a lot. We just do it for specific things,” Harless said. “There's two things (about Hyper-Reach) that caught my attention. Number one, I can actually do it and utilize it on my iPad from a particular scene. I can actually send that out when I'm there instead of having to come back to the judge's office and open a folder and let (court coordinator) Liz (Longoria) try to figure out how to use Code Red.”
Harless noted that Hyper-Reach is attached to the IPAWS federal alert notification system that can extend the county’s reach beyond the database of users who signed up to receive alerts under the old Code Red or the new Hyper-Reach system. One feature is that it would allow Harless to drop a pin from his iPad while on scene at an incident and the alert would be sent out in a radius from that pin.
“What it does is, if we had something, knock on wood, that we had to reach people passing through the county that weren't signed into the database, the IPAWS system uses that to be able to reach them like an Amber Alert, but it's regionally located,” Harless said. “If we have something to do with, for example, a hazmat situation on the interstate or the train tracks, anybody passing through — whether they're signed into our system or not — will get that IPAWS message.
“Another plus is it's tied into our social media page, because we have a pretty significant social media page here. When we send out a Hyper-Reach alert, it actually transitions onto our social media page, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, whatever we're going to use. It automatically does that so I don't have to go in, do the alert and then go back into the Facebook page.”
Harless said people who have Amazon’s Alexa in their homes can sign up to Hyper-Reach for Gonzales County and “you already have a database that's with Amazon, because it's an Amazon product, it automatically transition and signs you up.”
“Not only that, but if I send out an alert and you have Alexa, it will tell you there's an alert and will read that to you, and we can do it in English and Spanish, which is another good thing,” Harless said.
Harless said with the Cattle Country Music Festival scheduled for April 2024, the county can use Hyper-Reach to set up a QR code that visitors can use when they come for the event and it will create a database for that specific location for the weekend.
“While they're there at the location for just that weekend, I can reach them on their cell phones at the event, so if we needed an evacuation, or we had something going on, I could actually get on the site and talk to the people that scanned that QR code that are camping for that specific weekend,” Harless said. “Code Red couldn’t do that. It’s the same price or a little bit more than Code Red, but this is way better and plus, we will also get free training before we kick it off.”
County Judge Pat Davis said Hyper-Reach can also be used to create a database of county employees and used to alert them to notifications regarding the county during emergencies — something that would have been especially helpful during the February 2021 snow storm.
Davis’ officer administrator Amy Peeler, who met the Hyper-Reach representative with Harless, told commissioners the problem with Code Red was that whenever an alert was sent out, “there was usually never an update.”
“This (Hyper-Reach) gives us the opportunity to automatically do updates,” Peeler said. “If we sent out a message and it went to your cell phone or your home phone or whatever, and you didn't answer it, by the time you call that number back, you will get the most updated message. So, if it was something that happened early in the morning, but there have been several updates throughout the day, you're gonna get that last update. That's something that Code Red didn't offer.”
Harless noted he had “never received any significant training from Code Red because (former County) Judge (David) Bird and his court had put that in place before I started. But in this case, it's going to start from scratch and I'll get the training for almost a whole month so that we're up and running and when we start, we're good to go.”
Peeler said the county is currently playing $5,502 per year for Code Red and they are not utilizing it enough to make up for the cost, while the base price for Hyper-Reach is marginally larger at $5,500 per year with an optional $800 per year inbound information line that provides a local number residents can call for recorded updates.
“The capabilities are there with Code Red, but we just never updated so we've been paying $5,502 for a very minimal package. This Hyper-Reach is almost the same, just a little bit more, but we're getting three times as much service out of it,” Peeler said. “(Code Red) was always so cumbersome, because we would send stuff out, and I may get it immediately, but you may not get it for an hour or so later. (Hyper-Reach) is immediate, because it not only goes out to your phones and cell phones, but it even goes to your browser on your computer.”
In other action Monday, commissioners voted unanimously to give enough of their votes to Jeff Harvey to elect him to the Gonzales Central Appraisal District Board of Directors and to then give any remaining votes to Ryan Mills in an effort to help him get elected as well.
Every taxing unit which is a part of the district can vote for from one to five candidates to be on the board of directors. Last time, the county nominated Craig Hines, who has served as secretary for the board, but Hines indicated he has served a number of years and does not wish to serve again.
Each entity’s votes for the appraisal district board are determined by taxing entity total tax levy. Gonzales ISD has 34.51 percent of the total tax levy in Gonzales County, so they received 1,725 total votes, compared to 1,168 for Nixon-Smiley CISD (23.36 percent) and 1,141 for Gonzales County (22.83 percent). No other entity has more than 190 votes.