Residents’ alert: Summerville, Dorchester lack systems for cellphone alert system
SUMMERVILLE — The recent midnight shooting of a man in a Robynwyn front yard might push the town and Dorchester County into what a community leader called the “new technological age.”
How to sign up
Because of privacy and security issues, emergency alert sign-ups cannot be taken over the phone. For more information or to sign up, contact the sites below or check with local law enforcement to see if your community has a system.
Berkeley County: berkeleycounty.onthealert.com, email email@example.com or 719-4169.
Charleston County: alert.charlestoncounty.org, firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-6599.
Mount Pleasant: email@example.com or 884-8517.
North Charleston: See Charleston County. (The city uses the county system.)
Folly Beach: www.cityoffollybeach.com. Click on “Emergency Notification System Sign Up.”
The town and county don’t have a system that can alert residents with cellphones to emergencies.
Because more than 1,000 residents of the Robynwyn and nearby Palmetto Park communities asked for it, Summerville is looking to install a system and/or establish a Twitter following to let people know if violence erupts.
The idea is, if another shooting happens, everybody knows about it in real time, and they can take precautions and “become the eyes and ears of the place,” said Louis Smith, a community advocate whose mother lives in the neighborhood.
The county might take another look at a system too.
“I think it’s something we need to look at, absolutely,” said County Council Chairman Larry Hargett. “I can see the real value of that.”
Versions of the system already are in use in Charleston and Berkeley counties, and at least some of the area’s larger cities and towns also have individual systems, including Folly Beach.
Neither Summerville nor Dorchester County has one — yet. The county’s emergency dispatch, like most others, has a reverse 911 system that can be used to alert communities as well as individuals. But it works only with landline phones.
The town had applied for grants to do at least that much, but hasn’t won one, said Police Chief Bruce Owens. The town can use the county system.
Sheriff’s deputies recently looked into getting a cellphone system; it was not followed up on, said Maj. John Garrison. He couldn’t say why.
The Sheriff’s Office has scratched for funds for everything from officers to equipment, with the county cutting budgets over the past few years.
In the Robynwyn incident, a sedan full of people drove up to John Elliot Hancock in a front yard this month and opened fire, killing him.
The homicide and another shooting soon after has “caused the community to take stock,” Smith said.
Residents also are forming a community watch and assembling a task force with the town to look at the problems and solutions to crime in the neighborhood.
“That’s tremendous given the history of not trusting the police and authorities,” Smith said. “It’s a major cultural shift.”
Residents have come to realize that crime committed by persons within the community “is real,” Smith said. “It’s something we can’t cover up, and too many of our young people have fallen into that trap. We as a community are saying, enough is enough.”
There are issues with emergency alert systems. Some potentially criminal domestic violence calls can’t be broadcast because of privacy laws; some communities with systems in place have problems with residents rushing to the spot, disrupting police work and putting themselves in danger.
But the alerts can be used for everything from bad weather and utility main breaks to senior citizen checks.
“It’s good information,” Folly Beach Mayor Tim Goodwin said. “Sometimes we have complaints that we call too much. But the one time we don’t call (is the time) you don’t call (the city) quickly enough.”
Summerville is comparing alert systems, said Leonard Larkin, information technology manager, trying to sort through the problems to find the best fit. The town also might go to Twitter alerts, he said. “We’re going to come up with something pretty quickly, I think.”
Smith would like to see a system that coordinates with others across the area, he said.
Greater Summerville “is too close-knit a community, and I refuse to let this violence tear us apart.”
Reach Bo Petersen at 937-5744, @bopete on Twitter or Bo Petersen Reporting on Facebook.