County rolls out new emergency text system, upgrades app

A new texting alert feature aimed at keeping residents safe and informed is now available in Osceola County.

An upgraded government app is also set to roll out a new update with helpful tools just in time for the start of hurricane season June 1.

Residents can join the emergency system, AlertOsceola, by texting 888777 from a smartphone, or registering on the county’s website.

Users who opt in will also receive automated notifications from the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office specifically about their area, as well as information from the Emergency Management Office during natural disasters and Toho Water Authority when there’s a boil advisory in the area.

Users can select their preferred language and methods for receiving alerts, including SMS text messaging, e-mail, voice calls and TDD/TTY messaging.

AlertOsceola is maintained by a company called Everbridge, which was chosen by the Florida Division of Emergency Management in 2016 to provide the development and implementation of a statewide emergency alert system.

Osceola will join 63 other Florida counties already utilizing the customizable alert system, which provides automated notifications about flash floods, tornados, and other watches and warnings issued by the National Weather Service.

It will also notify residents about emergency shelters, evacuations and active shooter alerts, said Osceola County Emergency Management Director Bill Litton.

Residents don’t have to worry about being flooded by texts after signing up, Litton said. The purpose is to keep residents informed, not bombarded with notifications.

“We don’t want the public to become complacent with this system, and say, ‘Oh look, here comes another alert,’” Litton noted.

The county also recently announced a major update to its MyOsceola app.

Residents will be able to sign up for AlertOsceola via the MyOsceola mobile app. The application has existed since 2014, but staff plans to roll out new features by June 1 – just in time for hurricane season.

MyOsceola is more than emergency notifications, though – it also lets residents report local, non-emergency issues to the county through a geo-location enabled tool using pictures.  

If residents see a pothole, experience a sidewalk issue or want to report some other problem, they can take a picture in the MyOsceola app and send it to the county’s public works department, said Richard Van Natta, director of information technology for Osceola County.

Residents will also be able to track any public meetings specifically affecting their neighborhood, or major construction headed to the area by inputting their address and setting a radius to receive notifications.

“If there’s a zoning change request or a permit change, there’s further information for on-going projects that are part of our geo-coded alert system,” Van Natta said.

Users can customize what they want to receive notifications about – including non-emergency updates, Van Natta said.

“It gives people the ability to choose what they’re interested in and what information they want to receive,” he said. “It’s meant to be a one-stop shop to bring citizens the information they actually want.”

Osceola County cannot sell or share user data with third party companies, Van Natta said. Likewise, information for Alert Osceola is securely stored on Everbridge servers and only accessible by Emergency Management staff and the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, Litton said.

MyOsceola will undergo its major update June 1 with additional features following soon after.

County officials say the goal is to help residents stay connected, engaged and informed with what’s going on in the area.

“The more ways you can be informed about what’s going on in the community, the better,” said Osceola County Public Information Officer Mark Pino. “It’s just another way to get information.”