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Did you get an emergency alert Thursday? Here’s why

Drama of Northern California fires caught on camera

Devastating wildfires in Northern California and the wine country that are becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history leave lives lost, towns evacuated, residents displaced.
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Devastating wildfires in Northern California and the wine country that are becoming the deadliest and most destructive in California history leave lives lost, towns evacuated, residents displaced.

More than 350,000 Sacramento area residents received text, email and voice messages Thursday in a wide-scale test of local government’s emergency notification systems.

While officials say it’s too early to evaluate how the system performed, some residents who signed up reported receiving the alert as many as 20 minutes after the test began at 10:19 a.m.

“Some people received it immediately. Some people, it took longer,” said Janna Haynes, a Sacramento County spokeswoman speaking on behalf of Sacramento, Placer and Yolo counties. “Because of the volume of contacts, it can’t send it out all at once.”

Haynes said the alerts were likely delayed by the volume of calls and messages sent by agencies participating in “the Great California Shake Out,” a statewide earthquake drill. The system allows alerts via recorded message to landlines, email messages, text messages to mobile phones, or verbal recorded message to mobile phones.

Sign up here: www.sacramento-alert.org

The three local counties decided to time their test to coincide with the shake out, but they did not participate in other elements of the test. Twelve other states, many using the same vendor “Everbridge,” also ran statewide tests Thursday.

The need for alert systems was highlighted by the frenzied efforts to escape the deadly wildfires this month that destroyed thousands of homes and left at least 41 people dead in Yuba, Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino counties. While some people said they received the potentially life-saving alerts, others said they did not get a message.

Officials noted a spike in the number of people signing up as wildfires claimed lives across the state. Through Thursday, 17,489 people have signed up for alerts this month. That’s up 29 percent over last year’s total October sign ups with 10 days left in the month.

Before the proliferation of cellphones, emergency agencies used landlines, air sirens and broadcast alerts to warn residents of impending disasters. Agencies now encourage residents to sign up for digital alerts to supplement land line calls.

“Ideally we have every adult (opt in),” Haynes said.

The total adult population in Sacramento, Yolo and Placer counties is 1,505,000. Haynes was not immediately able to say how the region’s opt-in rate compared to other regions.

Sacramento resident Isaac Gonzalez said signing up was confusing and questioned whether it should take 10 minutes to get a message.

“If there is any delay it should be a few seconds,” he said. “It’s digital technology. They have to figure out a way to do it timely.”

He said he got an email at 10:26 a.m., then a bizarre phone alert.

“It was just an ear-piercing loud buzzing, then it hung up,” Gonzalez said. He said he was expecting a verbal message to follow.

West Sacramento resident Liz Hopper said she “found it quite comforting to see it was working.” Hopper, who set up her alert after the Oroville Dam crisis forced thousands to evacuate, received an email at 10:24 a.m. and a test at 10:38 a.m.

Ed Fletcher: 916-321-1269, @NewsFletch

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