Annual Community Notification System Update

Gallatin County Emergency Management

Each year I send one message to everyone who has registered the Community Notification System to share changes, pass on lessons learned and provide some answers to frequently asked questions.  Additionally, I ask that if you had a change like a new phone number, moved, or other changes, to please take a moment to update your information in the Community Notification System.

In 2018 we sent emergency messages supporting four emergency incidents around Gallatin County consisting of:

  • Law enforcement search for armed suspect who shot at a deputy.
  • Evacuation for a wildfire in Clarkston.
  • Dam failure that affected 16 Mile Creek.
  • Missing child in Manhattan.

In addition to these emergencies, messages were also sent for non-emergency situations to people who opted in for those additional messages.

Changes in 2018

In 2018 Gallatin County entered into an agreement with Montana State University to share the Community Notification System.  This consolidation created a single mass notification system for everyone in Gallatin County.  Now, if an emergency occurs in the area of MSU we can send one message to everyone affected making our alerting more effective.  The University maintains some student specific groups in the system for employees and students that allow them to target messages that are specific only to campus.  It appears that having a single shared mass notification system is not that common around the country, but we think it is a great idea to have one system that everyone uses.

The opt out capability has been enhanced in our system.  Phone calls, emails and text messages now contain the option to opt out from receiving them again.  Keep in mind that if you opt out of a message, you won’t receive any type of messages in the future from us.  If you receive a type of message you prefer to no longer receive, please change your settings (see FAQ below) rather than opt out.

Lessons Learned

Our alerting was fairly successful in 2018 with the four emergencies Gallatin County supported.  It continued to be reinforced that land line telephones are not a reliable alerting method, especially during a visible emergency.  The importance of encouraging our community to register in the Community Notification System continues to become even more critical for successful emergency messaging.

I’m sure you saw some of the media coverage from the California wildfires talking about how mass notification systems were and weren’t utilized in various situations.  The same challenges faced in California, we struggle with here in Gallatin County as we strive to never abuse the system and always provide clear messaging to the community.  Much of the debate in California centers around a technology known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), which is a capability we have.  This technology sends an alert to all cell phones in a given area with a text message and is the same system utilized for an AMBER Alert.  The challenge today with WEA is that the smallest area we can alert is an entire county, so that is everything between West Yellowstone and Maudlow.  Additionally, we can only include 90 characters and no websites or phone numbers.  So, the challenge is, does the incident affect the entire county and/ or can we clearly describe who is affected and what people are to do in 90 characters?  Rest assured, if an emergency warranted alerting the entire county of an emergency, your officials will do so.  However, our preference is to target our messaging to those who are actually affected and provide the most complete information and directions that we can.  The Federal Communications Commission is working with the cellular providers to implement changes that will alleviate the current challenges, but I don’t expect those to be implemented for a couple years.

In September, Montana State University issued an alert to their internal employee and student lists for a black bear on campus.  This caused some confusion among recipients about why they were receiving a message branded as the Gallatin County Community Notification System.  After reviewing this incident, future messages from the University will include a line stating that the message was being sent by the Montana State University Police Department to provide clarity on where the message is coming from.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do I update my information in the Community Notification System?


Your username is likely the email account you received this message at.

Why am I receiving this email, I never signed up for this?

Someone signed you up.  Every time we’ve been asked this question, it turned out that a family member signed up and they often have a shared email account.

Why am I getting road closure information?

When you registered you were given the option to select additional information you wanted to receive.  Sometimes people inadvertently selected these optional selections.  To no longer receive them, log into the Community Notification System and unselect them.  These selections have nothing to do with receiving emergency notifications (if you’re registered and in an affected area, you’ll receive emergency messages).

I downloaded the Everbridge App, am I covered?

Partially.  If you downloaded the Everbridge App, that is great and you will receive alerts when your phone is physically located in an area receiving an alert.  We recommend that people also register so that we know the locations you care about.  That way if something happens near your home, but your phone isn’t physically there at the time, you will still be alerted because you registered that address.

Can I create a single account for my entire family?

Yes, but we don’t recommend it.  We recommend that every individual register for their own account.  For emergency messages, the Community Notification System always asks for confirmation of receiving the message.  Once someone confirms, it stops spending time trying to reach that account.  So, it is possible that if you have a shared account and one person confirms the message they received, that another person who hasn’t been messaged yet will not get alerted.  To be safe, have everyone register themselves in the Community Notification System.

Where can I learn more about the Community Notification System?