It’s pretty much a given that everyone who has a smart phone has at least a half dozen applications – or “apps” – on it, from social media and books to music and restaurant finders and more.
Knowing that citizens are rarely without their phones, local law enforcement agencies have joined the party, but with a serious purpose.
Both the Beaufort County Sheriff’s Office and the Bluffton Police Department have initiated apps that provide numerous ways for citizens to prepare for emergencies and have a means of communicating with the departments.
BCSO’s Emergency Management app cost $7,500 and has a $5,000 annual fee. Funds for the app came from a state emergency management grant that will continue to pay the annual fee.
It went live in October 2015, according to Maj. David J. Zeoli from the BCSO’s Emergency Management Division.
BCSO has been using the Nixle app to provide daily notifications of traffic accidents, criminal activity and reminders from their cold case files. The latest app has practical survival information.
“We wanted to provide another means for the citizens of our county to be better prepared and the ability to receive emergency notifications,” Zeoli said. “In addition, it gives the user important information on hurricanes, family preparedness, emergency preparedness, earthquakes and crime prevention.”
At press time, the app was posting the fifth day of alerts surrounding Hurricane Hermine, which was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached the Lowcountry. Every few hours Sept. 1 and 2, officials posted weather updates, a tornado watch and flash flood advisories, among other notices.
More than 2,000 people have signed on and Zeoli said feedback to the sheriff’s office is positive.
“They like the app and find it user friendly,” he said, adding that the most popular options seem to be “Make a Plan” and “EvacMap & Shelters.”
Bluffton Police Department’s app, which came into use in April, cost $865 which includes a $700 annual fee. The funds come out of the department’s Support Services division, which also includes records and evidence, court and council security, school crossing guards and the quartermaster.
Like their counterparts at the county, the BPD app sent out updates on Hurricane, and then Tropical Storm Hermine, and trees down in Bluffton as a result of high winds from the storm.
Transparency was a major reason the BPD signed on with the My Police Department system, a larger application that includes law enforcement agencies around the world.
“We want everyone and anyone to be able to access us at any time,” said Chief Joey Reynolds. “This is also the age of technology. People of all ages have smart phones these days and most of the time they have their smart phone with them wherever they go. Therefore, with this app, they now have the Bluffton PD everywhere they go.”
So far, 694 people have signed up and feedback is positive.
Notifications come as text messages and as alerts if the user has opted to follow the department on Twitter.
“I want to send alerts out to keep people informed, but I don’t want to send out too many and too often where people start to ignore the alerts,” Reynolds said. “The alerts I send have been for flooding streets, weather related storms and road closures and construction.”
The chief said it was hard to tell if the notices have helped with traffic control or other circumstances, but anything that will keep the public alert to a situation is an asset.
“I feel the app has been a huge benefit to the department,” said Reynolds. “We are here to serve and protect the public. By doing so, we must have contact with the public. This app allows just that – keeping in contact with the public so they know we are here to help.”
Both apps are designed for use on Android and Apple products. Download MyPD and search for Bluffton Police Department. For the county app, search for Beaufort County S.C. Emergency Management.
Gwyneth J. Saunders is a veteran journalist and freelance writer living in Bluffton.