Local News

Tuesday, Oct 15 2013 02:08 PM

Norcal fire chief used emergency alert to tell about charity pancake breakfast

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

PALO ALTO -- A Northern California fire chief is defending his agency's use of a countywide emergency alert system to send residents information about a charity pancake breakfast.

The system, known as AlertSCC, sent messages to 27,000 people in Santa Clara County about Saturday's charity event at a park in Palo Alto, the Palo Alto Daily News reported Tuesday (http://bit.ly/1corDbE ).

The event was intended to raise money for a city effort to prevent teen suicides. It drew attendees including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife and Yahoo President and CEO Marissa Mayer and her son, the newspaper reported.

Fire Chief Eric Nickel said he did not intend to advertise the breakfast but authorized the alert because he was concerned residents might inundate the city's emergency dispatch center with calls related to one of the activities at the event: a rescue simulation with a helicopter.

The alert included a sentence about the rescue simulation.

"When we land a helicopter in the middle of town, people call 911 because they want to know what's going on," Nickel said.

But resident Erica Schroeder said fire officials need to exercise better judgment. She and her husband received two phone calls, a text and an email about the event on Friday.

"Text and automated calls are very useful ways to rapidly communicate," she told the Daily News in an email. "But blanketing us with communications about a pancake breakfast is not only distracting, it undercuts the value of" the emergency notification system.

Emails sent to the city's mayor and vice mayor by The Associated Press Tuesday were not immediately returned.

Nickel said that the city did not receive any 911 calls about the helicopter and that he has received less than 10 complaints about the alert.

Still, he said a discussion is warranted between public safety officials and the city manager about use of the system.

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