NEW CUMBERLAND - Hancock County residents soon will be able to get a "heads up" about everything from road closings to boil alerts to power outages directly on their smartphones.
Fourteen area agencies are participating in the "Heads Up Hancock" smartphone application, a program that gives them the ability to issue alerts in a timely manner to the public.
A launch event for the participating agencies is scheduled for noon today at the John D. Rockefeller IV Career Center.
The Hancock County Sheriff's Department, which has been looking at the app since March, received a $30,000 grant from the West Virginia Geological & Economic Survey to help cover the purchase and start-up costs. The county will pay an annual fee, depending on the number of downloads, for the costs of maintenance and hosting.
The "Heads Up" mobile app was developed by Mountain State Computer and Network Solutions, a Huntington-based company operated by the non-profit Foundation for Independent Living. Company profits go to support the foundation and its mission of helping people with disabilities.
The app was first built for the city of Huntington and is now being launched by Hancock County and the city of Beckley, said Derek Chapman, Mountain State senior account executive.
"The people who download the app and are getting the push notifications are getting them directly from the people in the know. They're getting the information first-hand," Chapman said.
There have been about 35,000 downloads of the app in Huntington so far, he said.
"The bad winter was probably the best advertising we could get," Chapman said. "I've had this since November, and it's really awesome to see it working. With the winter we had in Huntington, it was very instrumental in letting people know what roads were safe (and) when school was out. You could see the downloads really go up."
The "Heads Up Hancock" app is available for free download today at the Google Play store for Android devices and the Apple App store for iPhones.
County officials expect it to be operational sometime between noon and 1 p.m. today, when they issue their first alert announcing the start of the program.
Cities and other interested entities must first sign a memorandum of understanding with the county and receive training. There is no cost to them, and they control the individual notifications.
The participating agencies so far are:
Weirton Area Water Board;
Weirton Sanitary Board;
Tomlinson Public Service District;
Grant Public Service District;
Hancock County Office of Emergency Management;
City of New Cumberland;
Hancock County 911;
City of Chester;
Newell Volunteer Fire Department;
Hancock County Public Service District;
Oakland Public Service District;
Hancock County Commission;
Weirton Transit Corp.; and
New Cumberland Volunteer Fire Department.
The app allows users to view the notifications either in a list or on a map. Tapping on an individual notification allows the user to see more detailed information. Swiping it from right to left allows the user to share the information on social networks.
Users also can control which alerts they receive and from whom.
The mapping feature, which shows the current position of the user in relation to the emergency, is more accurate when the smartphone is connected to Wi-Fi.