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Virginia Beach emergency officials explain features of Reverse 911 and other alerts

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Posted at 2:00 PM, Mar 04, 2021

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – There appears to be some confusion among Virginia Beach residents regarding various emergency alert systems used in the city.

News 3 talked with the director of the Emergency Communications and Citizen Services Department of the City of Virginia Beach to help clarify and give residents a better understanding.

Recently, in the case of a missing elderly woman, a “Reverse 911” call was made. That’s an alert that goes only to a landline phone during an extreme emergency situation.

It could be about a missing person, a boil water advisory or any situation involving emergency responders.

“Those alerts can be sent to the entire city at one time or just a few houses in the neighborhood,” explained Stephen Williams, Virginia Beach's Director of Emergency Communications and Citizen Services. “It just really depends on what the situation is.”

The City of Virginia Beach has another system called VBAlert. It’s powered by RAVE Smart911.

Those alerts include weather warnings and watches, evacuation announcements, rabid animal alerts, traffic incidents or police, fire and EMS activity.

VBAlert messages can go to a mobile phone, an e-mail account or a landline, depending on what the resident chooses.

“Those messages go to people who have registered. They have opted into the system to receive those alerts,” Williams said. “They can receive it via text messages, a phone call to either their wireless or home phone and also via e-mail. It’s really up to them.”

Right now, the city has about 16,000 people signed up for the VBAlert. Williams says they’d like to see more register.

To opt-in for the alerts, text "vbalert" to 67283. You can also go to www.vbgov.com/vbalert.

When someone does this, he or she can also put additional, potentially helpful information into the “Smart 911” system.

“It could be health information. It could be photos of family members or friends that are there that we could get out to first responders, like if we do have a missing person,” Williams said. “Maybe an autistic child who’s scared when they hear sirens or something like that, we can let first responders know that to make them aware.”

Photos of your home or vehicles can even be uploaded. There’s also a section for emergency contacts.

Williams says all this information that’s entered into the Smart 911 database could be helpful in the event of an emergency, especially if a resident is calling 911 from a cellphone, because the dispatcher will see that data.

Williams added that most other jurisdictions in Hampton Roads have similar systems.