Automated ‘GeoCast’ backfires on Sheriff’s Office

       A number of Westside residents were surprised - many possibly awakened - by an automated phone call from the El Paso County Sheriff's Office close to or after midnight Sept. 21. The following Sheriff's Office press release (edited slightly for space and/or readability) was later sent out as an explanation:
       “On Monday, Sept. 21, the Sheriff's Office received a report of a missing woman in the area of 3501 W. Colorado Ave. This address is considered in the unincorporated area El Paso County. A 73-year-old female was last seen in the area at 4:30 p.m. on the same afternoon. Her family reported her missing at about 5:50 p.m. when her family had not heard from her. She was visiting from China and had only been in Colorado for 10 days. The family was concerned that she was not dressed appropriately for the weather and she speaks only Chinese.
       “Based on the information, it was decided to use the GeoCast system (a form of reverse notification) to attempt to locate the party. Initially the system sent the message in a one-mile radius around the original location and later it was expanded to a three-mile radius. By 10:30 p.m., she had been located and the Sheriff's Office stopped the original message and initiated a follow-up message to the same area to indicate she had been located. Because the original activation had been stopped, not all residents received the first and second message. Additionally, due to the search area being a heavily populated one, it took several hours for the system to complete the messaging. Some residents received calls as late as 1 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
       “Following this event and as a result of feedback from citizens in the community, the Sheriff's Office is reviewing the policies surrounding use of the GeoCast system. It is important to realize the importance of this system as a tool to assist law enforcement in their duties. There is a balance which must be determined weighing the risk of the situation at hand versus the disruption to members of the community when using this system. Some of the factors which will be reviewed include the totality of the circumstances, the situation in play (whether a missing person or a dangerous suspect is being sought in the area), the impact to citizens, whether or not the citizens need to take action (shelter in place or evacuation if applicable), the time of day, and the desired outcome.
       “The Sheriff's Office appreciates input from the community and respects their concerns in this matter. We also realize there will be some complaints received when utilizing a system which affects many people. We feel it important to address the issue and try to find ways to improve training on the system, communication and make adjustments where it is appropriate to best serve the community.”

From a press release