Fla. county uses emergency phone system for census

Polk County, Fla., tapped a phone system typically used only for emergencies

to tell people how important the census is.

In the county of 296,000 located in the center of Florida, the system, managed

by the Sheriff's office, targeted 190,000 homes in areas with previous low

responses during a three-week period in April.

Using the system for the census seemed like the best way to get people to

participate, said Sterling Ivey, public information officer at the Sheriff's

office. "We just felt it was one of the best methods to get the word out

to a specific area," he said.

The Sheriff's office uses the system for a variety of public notifications,

not just for emergencies, Ivey said. Other examples include notifications

of community policing, public safety concerns and the possibility of criminal

activities in certain areas.

The system uses 48 phone lines to call homes and play a recorded message,

which usually last about 30 seconds. It immediately identifies itself as

the Sheriff's office so that people don't hang up, said Tony Bradshaw, president

of Bradshaw Consulting Inc., the creator of the GeoNotify system used.

The homes were called from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m., with the system calling about

40 to 50 homes per minute. The GeoNotify system uses mapping software from

Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. to target a specific geographic

area, and The Communicator from Dialogic Communications Corp. to place the

phone calls.

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