Dots banner
Home Departments City Manager City Council Mayor's Office Jobs Publications
 Pay Bills Online Calendar of Events
Printer-friendly version
 Back to Table of Contents
 Hearing Schedule
 City Manager's Agenda
 Awaiting Report List
 Applications and Petitions
 Resolution List
 Policy Order and Resolution List
 Committee Reports
 Communications and Reports from City Officers
City Council Office
 Committee Report

Committee Report #1


In City Council July 29, 2013

Councillor Craig A. Kelley, Chair  
Vice Mayor E. Denise Simmons  
Councillor Timothy J. Toomey  

The Public Safety Committee held a public meeting on May 15, 2013 beginning at 2:06 P.M. in the Sullivan Chamber.

The purpose of the meeting was to review the Cambridge Alert System and any other public notice system used for public safety issues.

Present at the meeting were Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair of the Committee, Vice Mayor Simmons, Councillor vanBeuzekom, Richard Rossi, Deputy City Manager, Maryellen Carvello, Administrative Assistant, City Manager's Office, Steve William, Superintendent of Police, Jack Albert, Deputy Superintendent of Police, Dave Degou, Public Safety Advisor/Administrator, CHA, Gloria Leipzig, Director of Operations, CHA, George Fosque, Director, Emergency Communications, and Interim City Clerk Donna P. Lopez.

Also present were John Hawkinson, Bill Cunningham, Michele Trifior, Director of Campus Safety, Lesley University, Nicole A. O'Leary, Captain of Public Safety, Lesley University and Donald Summerfield, 237 Franklin Street.

Councillor Kelley announced that the meeting is being recorded with audio devices.

Councillor Kelley convened the meeting and explained the purpose.  He opened the meeting to public comment.  No one appeared and public comment was closed.

This meeting is relevant to the recent events that occurred with the Boston marathon.  Cambridge ALERT, CodeRed, texting and robot call are all the mechanisms used to get the word out but they do not reach everyone with the same level of efficiency.  He wanted different systems explained.  Councillor vanBeuzekom agreed that it would be helpful to her to know about the different systems.

Vice Mayor Simmons introduced a communication received from ACT conveying two important issues:  alerting people in large residential building of general public emergencies and notification to persons with limited mobility (ATTACHMENT A).  She requested that this be made part of the report.  She wanted the most difficult of our citizens to be properly reachable in the event of an emergency.

Superintendent Williams stated that the alert systems are tiered.  This information can be found on the city's homepage by either clicking on Cambridge ALERT Network of under the category of Quick Links clicking on Social Media sites.  The Cambridge ALERT Network has three tiers:  CodeRed, Citizen Observer and Cambridge E-Line (ATTACHMENT B).

CodeRed is used to broadcast emergency situations.  It is a robust system.  It uses phone calls, e-mails and text messaging  to send an alert.  Participants elect how they want to receive the messages.  The shelter in place alert was a good example of CodeRed.  There are 46,000 subscribers for CodeRed, which has a siren.

Citizen Observer is the second tier.  It is used by police to send neighborhood specific crime alerts the CPD judges to be of sufficient value to inform the public in this manner, so not all crime would result in an alert.  It is a subscriber only system.  You must sign up to receive the alert.  Alerts are sent via texts and e-mails.  It has 8,000 subscribers.

The third tier is Cambridge E-Line shares general information such as street cleaning, trash pickup, etc.  Routine information is distributed via this system.  It is unknown how many people subscribe to Cambridge E-Line.

Emergency Communication has tweets sent out tied to CAD with 5 minute delay.  This is a select call for services under this system and the location is narrowed down only to the hundreds block (i.e.- 16XX Massachusetts Avenue) to protect privacy.  If a call for service in one of the 18 or so selected categories is entered, five minutes later it is automatically tweeted.  Cambridge is the second city that utilizes tweets.  Seattle was the first.  Deputy Superintendent Albert stated that there are 13,000 subscribers on tweets.

Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if information sent if block specific.  The information gives a general area range to give the public information to allow them to change their direction of travel.

Mr. Rossi stated that based on the marathon event he cautioned the City Council about distributing information on twitters that should not be considered "official" information.  The information may not be accurate.  This should not be made to look like the official position of the city and the City might want to consider making this clear with disclaimers.  Official information is distributed by the police.  Councillor vanBeuzekom commented that re-tweeting information tweeted by the police is considered official.  Mr. Rossi again cautions about the accuracy of the information.  The tweets are an automatic result after the call for service has been entered and the call for service, in an of itself, is neither a true nor a false representation of what's going on, it's just a call for service.

Councillor Kelley stated that he received Citizen Observer information 12 hours after the event.  What is the timeline?  Superintendent Williams explained that the Citizen Observer information must be accurate and it is not in real time.  A 12 hour delay occurs if all the information is not available; this is not unreasonable.  He spoke about 2 robberies in the city.  The delay was due to the question of whether they were interrelated.  Councillor Kelley asked was a tweet put out.  Superintendent Williams stated that a tweet would have been sent out in 5 minutes.  It mirrors the call for service.  Mr. Fosque explained the process: call come in on the phone, it is typed into system; goes to dispatcher and is assigned.  This has an interface with twitter.  There is a delay because it is not proper law enforcement.  Superintendent Williams stated that exact addresses are not given out.  If robbery occurred on Mass Avenue it could be one of 5 neighborhoods and the address is blocked.  Mr. Fosque added that the actual specific address is obscured.  Addresses will probably be noted by block face in the future. 

Councillor Kelley asked what the call for services is.  Mr. Fosque stated that he would provide Councillor Kelley with a list of the call for services.  Twitter is used to provide information in real time. Mr. Rossi it is an entry of incident, but has the incident been proven?  Mr. Fosque explained that Twitter feeds from CPD is similar to following scanners.  A tweet from CPD is not an Alert.  Mr. Rossi explained that Alerts contain a level of investigation with some level of determination by police, such as any pattern of a crime that the community should be more aware of.  A Citizen Observer Alert was done for the shooting at Jefferson Park.  Tweets are unfounded in fact.  A Twitter screen shot is attached (ATTACHMENT C).

Mr. Fosque added that reported gun shots to Emergency Communication are not always gun shots; it is dispatched to police who will investigate.  Superintendent Williams stated that tweets also help the police with the public providing information to the police to help with the investigation. 

Councillor vanBeuzekom asked if Face book is considered.  Superintendent Williams replied that both Face book and YouTube used.  Citizen Observer alerts, Cambridge E-Line and tweets are pushed out.

Councillor Kelley asked who gives narrative for the Citizen Observer.  Superintendent Williams stated that the Police Commissioner approves and it is sent out.  The command staff fills in absent of Mr. Riviello.  Filling out Alerts is more an art than a science.

Mr. Fosque explained that the City Manager approves CodeRed.  There are six other persons who are trained for CodeRed.  It is a high level so that it is not overused

Mr. Cunningham asked if the CodeRed language is shared with other communities.  Deputy Superintendent Albert stated that it was used in the marathon episode and was sent to Arlington and Watertown.

Councillor Kelley questioned housing and large complexes and schools are notified.  Residents are encouraged to sign up.  Is there outreach to housing facilities?  Mr. Fosque suggested sending out information to building managers.  Ms. Carvello stated that the City received many calls to get residents signed up to the alert systems.  Mr. Degou stated CHA works with tenants' councils.  Mr. Cunningham explained the problems of communication are especially acute with non- English speaking tenants and the lack of internet accessibility. 

Don Summerfield, 237 Franklin Street, stated that a tenant council meeting he was encouraged to sign up for alerts.  He stated that there was a lack of communication between building managers and the tenant councils.  Mr. Cunningham stated there are buildings without active tenant councils, perhaps 75% of public housing buildings and even more with market rate complexes, and the lack of communication.  The city needs to think about oversight as property managers turn over.  Mr. Rossi explained that the City cannot accept responsibility for the property owners.  The City will educate and provide information about signing up for the alerts, but it's not the City's responsibility.  Councillor Kelley also suggested that the information be provided in languages other than English.  Mr. Fosque commented about reaching "special population" (language, deaf, etc.)

Vice Mayor Simmons suggested language when signing up for the alert systems what language would you like this information sent to you.  Mr. Rossi stated that the City is working on developing the system.  Mr. Fosque added that CodeRed does not have the feature to ask about language issue and while it can make 2000 calls per minute, it can't provide separate language options. 

Mr. Cunningham suggested that all stakeholders should be called to a meeting to discuss how this could be accomplished.  Perhaps have a notification work group.

Councillor Kelley asked is there communication with the schools.  This is communication with a defined group of students, parents and teachers.  Councillor Kelley asked if a CodeRed could be as a message from the School Department in a snow emergency situation.  Ms. Carvello stated that the message is the same from both City and School; but comes from different sources. CPS has its own various communications programs.  Mr. Rossi added that the City is in communication with the School Department prior to issuing a Code Red on something like a snow emergency.  The City message is used to the general public as a CodeRed and is also put on the website.  If schools were closed would the teachers and parents only get the information?  Mr. Rossi stated that the Assistant City Manager for Human Services notifies participants who are enrolled in the DHSP programs.  Mr. Fosque explained that CodeRed messages can be sent to the entire city, a specific area and to public safety employees internally which can be useful, as an example, for finding personnel to fill staffing gaps.  CodeRed has a set of uses:  emergencies, street cleaning, water main break and power outages, to name a few.  It was also used for the Collier memorial.

Mr. Fosque expressed his concern about the number of cell phone numbers in CodeRed are too small.  More recruitment to add information to CodeRed is needed.  There are 39,000 numbers in CodeRed of which 30,000 are wired white page phone numbers which is the data source that you get when you buy Code Red services.  About 8500 get texts and another 500 cell phones get calls for a total of about 9000 cell phones have been added.  There is no do not call provision with CodeRed.  There was a concern that CodeRed would be used for marketing, this is not the case.  Councillor Kelley asked if a phone number gets removed from CodeRed.  Mr. Fosque responded that the white pages are cleaned of information so the numbers are very accurate.  CodeRed has a better notification process than reverse 911.  Cambridge has 280,000 phone lines because of the trunk lines, innovation companies, Harvard and MIT.  For larger commercial properties only the phone numbers listed in the white pages will be reached.  If a number is behind a PBX, which means one must dial an 8 or 9 to get out, it cannot be reached by Code Red. Mr. Rossi explained that as city buildings are modernized and converted the extensions will be added to CodeRed.  Mailings to encourage registration cannot be added to the tax bills and water bills are sent to property owners.  Every opportunity is used to get this information out to the residents.  Mr. Hawkinson commented that information is passed on to others by someone who receives a message.  Ms. Carvello stated that CodeRed, Twitter and media are the mechanism by which information is distributed.

Councillor Kelley asked how long it takes to send 2,000 texts.  Mr. Fosque responded 25-35 minutes to reach the entire city via Code Red.  He stated that the FCC and the federal government have established a nationwide alert system for people in an area between cell towers which the State can utilize.  The FEMA alert in the Smartphone's come from the weather channel.  MMA is talking about a state wide system for mass texting of emergencies to anyone served by a cell tower.  Things can get confusing when, for example, Boston employees who live in Cambridge get a message about some problem in Boston that does not affect Cambridge, such as a drinking water problem with the MWRA, which does not serve as Cambridge's primary drinking water provider.

Councillor Kelley asked how municipal channel is used to send out messages.  Mr. Fosque stated that there is an emergency override capacity which would allow him to have information scrolled across the cable TV on any channel being watched.  Information can also be broadcast live via City TV.  Mr. Rossi noted that not everyone subscribed to cable TV.  It can be done remotely.  This is separate from the national alert.  When an emergency occurs the focus needs to be on practicality.  In the future there may be more people dedicated to public information.  When an emergency occurs there are three different steps that Mr. Riviello must take to send out the notification.

Mr. Cunningham stated that he was confused with CodeRed versus the different levels of emergency (the color scheme of ROYBG).  What is exactly being communicated he asked.  There is a privacy issue for persons with disabilities, but the list of persons with disabilities is not kept up to date.  Mr. Fosque stated that there is disability indicator program where persons with disabilities can register their phone number and it is entered into CAD notification file.  This information is updated yearly.  Building managers are not involved in this notification process.  Mr. Rossi suggested to reaching out to all building management companies.  The city could have a presentation by Emergency Communications, Fire Department where there could be a questions and answers session as well as valuable information provided.  He would like a list of whom to invite and city will have a meeting.

Mr. Summerfield asked if he does not call 911 will the first responders be prepared to address his disability.  Mr. Fosque answered yes if you entered that information in the Disability Indicator, which is self-reported on the phone.  He does not know if Emergency Communications can forward this information to the building manager as it is private information.  Mr. Summerfield stated that CodeRed worked well except for the Inman Square issue. Deputy Superintendent Albert Jack stated that the residents/spectators were very respectfully when asked by the police to disburse.

Councillor Kelley thanked all those present for their attendance.

The meeting adjourned at 3:42 P.M.

For the Committee,

Councillor Craig Kelley, Chair
Public Safety Committee


View attached file


Living Working Visiting