Training on the Alert FM system in Shasta County will begin Thursday

Rural Shasta County residents like Cindy Shaw are eager to tap into a new system that will broadcast alerts about wildfires or other disasters.

But Shaw, who has lived in Oak Run for more than 30 years, said earlier this week that she had yet to order an Alert FM receiver. That’s because the system, which uses FM radio signals to send potentially life-saving alerts, hasn’t been enabled to send personalized wildfire alerts.

Supply chain disruptions and the emergency dispatcher training process are among the reasons for the delay, Shasta County Public Information Officer Tim Mapes said Tuesday after a reporter for Record Searchlight emailed him with questions about the delays.

On Thursday, emergency dispatchers will be trained on the Alert FM system on how to send alerts for wildfire evacuations and other personalized alerts, Mapes said.

That’s good news for residents like Shaw and Oak Run resident Jane Andersen, who told Record Searchlight they’ve been frustrated by the delays.

Shaw said he attended a meeting about the Alert FM system in February at the Sheraton Hotel in Redding.

“We were told it could be the end of April. We are at the end of May,” she told Record Searchlight.

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The Board of Supervisors late last year approved a $935,000 contract for Alert FM to provide an alternative to what is already available for broadcasting alerts to rural residents in Shasta County.

The idea is that the radio signal won’t stop during a fire, which can cause power outages, damage cell towers, and cut service. There are also many people in Shasta County who live in areas that cannot get cell service or have spotty signal.

A California Highway Patrol officer looks at the flames visible from the Zogg Fire near Igo in September 2020 in this file photo.

“It’s a lifesaver when we run out of power,” Shaw said.

Shaw said the receivers can run on batteries and she can take them with her in her car.

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Both Andersen and Shaw are members of the Oak Run Firewise Council, a group that promotes wildfire safety and prevention in their community. They said the fire season has started in earnest and every day that passes without activation is critical.

“But, you know, what the end result is, it’s positive, so it’s good. We’re very happy,” Andersen said of the news that training will start on Thursday. “Thanks to the communication, we had very positive results.”

“We’ll keep a check on them and hopefully they’ll announce the day after tomorrow that practice is over and we can move on,” Shaw said Wednesday.

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Matthew Straeb, executive vice president of Alert FM, said weather and seismic alerts, both of which are automated messages, are already available in Shasta County.

Five local radio stations are connected to the Alert FM system in Shasta County.

“Based on testing, they’re adding three more FM stations to provide redundancy and fill in the gaps,” Mapes said.

Shasta County residents can purchase the radio receivers by going to alertfm.com/store. They can also call 1-866-869-5180. Mapes said there were 6,000 Alert FM receivers in stock at the company’s distribution center in Chico.

Tim Mapes in 2019

Supply chain issues, the rising cost of manufacturing the devices and an increase in shipping costs drove the retail cost of the receivers up to $99 from around $60, Straeb said.

But assistance for income-eligible residents is expected to come from a $50,000 grant from Pacific Gas & Electric Co. The grants still need to be approved by the Shasta County Board of Supervisors, Mapes said.

“We will work with the sheriff’s office to properly establish a fair and equitable schedule for the release of these receivers if and once (the grant is) approved,” Mapes said.

David Benda covers business, development and all things happening for the USA TODAY Network in Redding. He also writes the weekly “Buzz on the Street” column. He is part of a team of dedicated reporters who investigate wrongdoing, cover breaking news and tell other stories about your community. Join him on Twitter @DavidBenda_RS or by phone at 1-530-338-8323. To support and perpetuate this work, thank you subscribe today.

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