Tuesday, July 3, 2012
LONGMONT -- Residents with a no-solicitation feature on their phones might be
blocking more than just unwanted telemarketers.
They might also be stopping emergency notifications from the city of
The Times-Call discovered that the no-solicitation feature can prevent a
message about an emergency from reaching someone on the other end.
"From testing, it appears that if you have this service, you probably will
not get these messages," said Ken Nichols, supervisor of Longmont's emergency
Nicholas said city dispatchers were not aware of the problem until the
Times-Call brought it to their attention.
The no solicitation service -- a feature that CenturyLink customers pay for
that screens calls daily between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. -- plays an automated message
to callers that instructs solicitors to hang up and all other people to either
press 1 or stay on the
Ken Nichols, supervisor of
the Longmont Police Department's Emergency Communication Center, demonstrates
the emergency notification system in his office on Thursday. ( Greg Lindstrom
line to connect.
The problem stems from that feature's interaction with Everbridge Alert, the
service Longmont dispatchers use to send emergency notifications to affected
landlines and any cell phone or email addresses residents have opted in. If a
person is not reached, the system detects a machine and leaves a voice message.
On phones with a no-solicitation feature, Everbridge interprets that initial
automated message as reaching a machine and then begins to deliver its
notification at that time. By the time someone on the other end picks up the
phone, the message either has been delivered and the system has hung up, or the
person picks up in the middle of the message. Either way, the message doesn't
get through to voicemail.
There's no way to know how many customers might be affected, because
CenturyLink does not release numbers for specific call features for competitive
information, according to company spokesman Mark Mulzen. He said there have been
no other reports of the no-solicitation feature interfering with emergency
Nicole Rowe, the vice president for Everbridge's product marketing, also said
this is the first she's heard of the problem.
Rowe encouraged customers with this issue to opt in a cell phone to make sure
they receive the emergency message, wherever they might be.
"No one way of communication is guaranteed. ... That best way, the most
efficient way to reach someone is to use multiple paths to reach them," she
Residents with the no-solicitation feature also can add the city's number to
a privileged caller list, which allows calls from certain numbers to bypass the
To receive a notification from the city of Longmont, Nichols suggests adding
the two numbers that emergency notification may come from: 303-651-8501 and
As of May, 20,707 numbers, including landlines and cell phones, in Boulder
County have opted into the system.
Identifying the problem
The issue was brought to light after the city sent out an emergency
notification on June 2, the first time the Everbridge system was used this year.
On that evening, an armed 36-year-old man barricaded himself inside his home
on the 600 block of Silver Star Court in Longmont.
Officers, including the police department's SWAT team, were unable to coax
the man out of his home, and the man shot and killed himself shortly after 10
p.m., according to police.
At 8:40 p.m., dispatchers sent an emergency message to 574 contacts --
landlines, cell phones, emails -- near the home, telling residents to remain
inside their homes until they heard further instructions. The calls went to
residents in an area bordered by Highland Drive, Pace Street, East Fifth Avenue
and Alpine Street.
A call canceling the emergency was sent at 11:33 p.m. to 488 contacts. The
difference of 86 stemmed from a dispatcher failing to record the initial list of
contacted households, Nichols said.
An anonymous reader wrote a letter to the Times-Call's Johnnie St. Vrain
column about the June 2 notification. The reader outlined this scenario: His
phone rang at 8:40 p.m. and the caller ID showed that it was the city of
Longmont. The reader picked up after the second ring, but it was a hang up.
At 11:30 p.m., the resident received a call from the same number, this time
with recorded information saying that an emergency in the area was over and it
was safe to go outside.
"I was rather upset, not only at the late night call (I thought someone must
have died!) but at the fact that I had been unaware of a possible threat to my
family's safety so we could take appropriate precautions," the letter stated.
The second notification came through because the no-solicitation feature is
active only from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m.
But the first call, which occurred when the feature was active, likely was
delivered after the no-solicitation message kicked on.
With help from Nichols, the Times-Call conducted a test of the system by
sending a series of four test notifications to a phone with a no-solicitation
feature at about 4 p.m. Monday.
All four times, the message did not come through and no voice message was
However, on the city's end, the system indicated that all of the messages
were successfully delivered to a machine, which is the alert dispatchers get
when a notification is left on voicemail.
Technically, the notification did go to a machine. It just wasn't the right
"What you got is two blind computers butting heads," Nichols said.