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Radio station offers emergency news via e-mail

September 8, 2001 

Due to work schedules, some parents find it hard to keep up with school closings, fog delays or community emergencies.

WGN Radio has a plan to make busy parents’ lives a little easier.

The Chicago-based radio station has launched its Emergency Closing Center Web page, where parents can register to be notified by e-mail — either at home or at work — when their children’s school system, fire department, or emergency management agency posts any type of notice. And the service is free.

Consider this scenario: A gas leak at a Highland elementary school forces emergency closing of the school shortly after students start their school day. Any parents who are registered with the Emergency Closing Center will receive an instantaneous e-mail message alerting them to the problem at the elementary school closing within minutes of the school posting the notice. If a parent’s phone has e-mail capability, the phone e-mail address may also be used.

While it sounds futuristic, the technical capability is available, said WGN Manager of Network Operations Barbra Pabst.

“The public can help themselves by retrieving the information via e-mail,” Pabst said.

Highland Fire Chief Bill Timmer is excited about the possibilities of WGN’s e-mail program.

“Every time we set off the sirens, our 911 system is swamped (with phone calls),” Timmer said. “The sirens, the radio and the computer are all tools we can use to get information to the public.”

No matter how concerned, people shouldn’t call 911 in search of information, Timmer said, because the system is set up to receive requests for emergency response.

Recently, Timmer said a Whiting man having a heart attack couldn’t reach the 911 dispatcher because people were telephoning 911 seeking information on a refinery crisis.

WGN Radio personality Lyle Dean started the original school closing notification system from his home in 1979 when he worked as the news director of WFYR radio.

The radio station used to be swamped with telephone calls about school closings on snowy, winter mornings. Dean knew there was a need for news organizations to cooperate and merge their school closing information.

At that time, personal computers were in their infancy. Dean had eight phone lines installed in his home office for school systems to call. Once an hour, Dean would transfer the information to all radio stations via modem.

“That was the start of it,” Dean said. “Gradually, the system evolved into all the radio stations and the TV stations receiving school closing and other emergency information through the closing center.”

Martha Bisacchi may be reached by e-mail at .

By Martha Bisacchi, Post-Tribune correspondent

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