Fla. County Uses Emergency Phone System for Census

WASHINGTON (06/13/2000) - Polk County, Florida, 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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