A private company today took full responsibility for phone calls that were made overnight to many Lincoln area residents. The City contracted with FirstCall, an emergency notification system based in Louisiana, to notify residents by phone in the case of parking bans and emergencies. The FirstCall system was activated about 2:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon to notify residents that Mayor Chris Beutler had declared a snow emergency effective at 4 p.m.
"We understand that receiving a call in the middle of the night can be alarming, and we sincerely apologize to all those affected," said Matt Teague, President of FirstCall Networks. "About 90 percent of the calls were successfully completed in 90 minutes. Our staff is trained to stop all non-emergency calls at 10 p.m., and in this case, that did not occur. We take full responsibility for this and will make sure this does not happen again."
Teague said residents can call FirstCall at 800-653-9232 for an explanation. He said it was the first time the company had experienced a problem like this in its 13 years of operation.
It was the first time the City used the system to notify residents of parking bans. When the system is activated, about 53,000 calls are to be made to all land line phones in the Lincoln area and to the cell phones of those who have pre-registered. The FirstCall system can make 3,000 calls per minute.
"This service is intended to be a tool to help residents stay informed on parking bans and avoid the cost of tickets and towing," Mayor Beutler said. "We also plan to use the system for severe weather and other types of emergencies."
Lancaster County Emergency Director Doug Ahlberg said FirstCall was used successfully in July to notify about 2,400 residents in the area of the Lincoln Regional Center about an escapee. FirstCall was selected through an bidding process, and the City is paying the firm $28,000 for 157,000 minutes of service. The City will not be charged for yesterday's snow emergency notification.
Ahlberg said many residents may not have answered their phones because their caller ID systems displayed an unfamiliar area code (225 for Baton Rouge). In the future, the caller ID will be changed to indicate it is a call from the City of Lincoln.
The City remains in a snow emergency, and parking is banned on both sides of emergency snow routes, arterial streets and City bus routes. The City can issue two other types of parking bans:
In addition to the FirstCall system, the City also sends information to the new media and posts notices on the City website (lincoln.ne.gov) and government access cable channels 5 and 10. Some residents also have signed up to be notified of snow operations through Twitter (twitter.com/lincolnsnow).
Vehicles parked illegally during snow emergency, snow removal district or residential parking bans are subject to fines, towing and storage costs at the owners' expense. Vehicles parked in a way that does not allow emergency vehicles to pass may be ticked for obstructing a public street.