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August 27, 2011

City hurricane robocalls run all night

Feeling a little groggy this morning? Maybe you can blame it on one of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's Hurricane robocalls.

It seems the automated phone calls the city began making to several hundred thousand residents Friday afternoon were supposed to stop at 9 p.m. The mayor's recorded voice reminded constituents that Hurricane Irene was on the way, and urged them to stock up on food, water and Stephanie Rawlings-Blakeemergency supplies in case of prolonged power outages.

It was a fine plan, until the computer server doing the work neglected to shut off at 9 p.m., as officials had directed. It apparently ran all night, until someone discovered the problem after 7 a.m. Saturday, and pulled the plug.

City spokesman Rico Singleton apologized, and described the issue as an "equipment malfunction." But whether it was a hardware glitch or a programming error, residents who were awakened in the middle of the night by their phones - and the mayor's voice - probably aren't very happy with the city this morning.

Lynn McLain, a northwest Baltimore resident in her 60s, whose phone rang at 4:17 a.m., never did get back to sleep. "Had it been an emergency evacuation, I could see calling. But I don't see calling to tell you you need to get canned food ... I hung up after the canned food."

"I felt myself thinking, 'What did this cost, as a taxpayer?' I also thought, 'She's going to lose more votes that she's going to get from this phone call.' ... Is it even a function of government to call and tell us to buy canned food? Get the TV stations to make an announcement," McLain said.

Singleton said the city plans to rely, in the future, on less disruptive text messages and email for such calls. But  not everyone uses those technologies. For critical alerts, he said, robocalls may still be utilized.

Did you get the call? Your thoughts?

(SUN PHOTO: Jed Kirschbaum, January 2011)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 12:05 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Hurricanes


Unfortunately, people will only focus on the glitch in the system and not on intent. Hurricane Irene is a dangerous storm and I applaud the Mayor's efforts on behalf of the citizens she represents. Too many people don't take the warnings seriously. A little prodding to do so by a public official is a positive course of action. Those who feel inconvenienced by the glitch are not looking at the bigger picture.

Susan must be a member of the Mayor's staff or a campaign volunteer. I agree with the person quoted in the original post, that this call was intrusive and an unnecessary expense to taxpayers no matter what time of day the call was made. As a resident of the City since 1988, I would much prefer the Mayor's office to concentrate on making substantive progress for this city, rather than engaging in these kind of annoying efforts which are unlikely to change anyone's behavior.

Robocalls are standard fare up here in Harford and Cecil counties. I've gotten them many times for the blizzards, unsafe drinking water, and earlier today letting me know where the evacuation shelter was and urging voluntary evacuation for low-lying areas. They are a fairly cheap and effective way of getting the word out to people in a certain effected area.

That they came in the middle of the night was a glitch. We are all human.

I received this call at approximately 2AM. Wow, thanks, SRB.

The City does offer email and Twitter notification if you sign up. They're also on Facebook. I'm definitely not a SRB fan, but to be fair, I thought it should be mentioned. Here's the link to their social media directory:

If you don't want unsolicited calls, consider getting an unlisted number.

Given the city's recent dismal record with regard to emergency warnings, this show of ineptitude is not unexpected.

Since the 1950s, a network of sirens has stood ready to warn city residents of air raids and other emergency events, and has been used recently for such events as the chemical train fire in the old B&O tunnel. These were all over the place- there's even one on top of the Senator Theater!

But even such simple machines as sirens need some maintenance, and most of them are no longer working. Those few that still operate can be heard Mondays at 1:00 PM for their weekly test. If you happen to be near one of these, you're lucky. The rest would still be working if the city did its job of maintaining them.

Much has been made of robo-calls, texts and other more-recent technologies. But as this event shows, the city can't get them right. When the robo-call came in to my house, the message was cut off before it finished. So much for effectiveness. And how much did all this failing technology cost us taxpayers?

I had already decided to vote against Rawlings-Blake, and her inability to effectively maintain and operate emergency warning systems is yet another reason to do so. No matter where the problem lies, the buck stops with her. Period.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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