BELLEVILLE — City officials say residents should sign up for free emergency alerts because it will help in the aftermath of a disaster like the deadly tornado that hit Oklahoma on Monday.
"It pays off after the event," Belleville Fire Chief Scott Lanxon said. "Residents will be wandering the streets but most will have their cellphones on them. We can tell people where the Red Cross is, where to get food and water."
If Belleville residents register their cellphone numbers and emails with Hyper-Reach, they will also receive alerts about severe weather and/or other emergencies, such as gas leaks or police lockdowns.
Belleville residents can get free weather and emergency alerts by phone or email by signing up at www.belleville.net under the Hyper-Reach tab at the top of the website.
The city's contract with Hyper-Reach, an emergency notification provider, allows officials to call all residents' landlines -- whether the resident signed up for the service.
About 3,000 of the city's 18,000 households have registered their landlines.
But the city does not have access to residents' cellphone numbers unless they sign up.
Belleville Deputy Fire Chief Tom Pour said residents need to register the number they most likely will have access to during an emergency.
"The problem we foresee is so many people have a home phone they no longer use," Pour said. "If there truly is an emergency, we don't want to overwhelm the system with a bunch of landlines that don't work or people won't answer."
Residents should have no worries about identity theft, privacy and getting too many calls, Pour said. The city will not sell the information to marketers.
Residents should have an emergency kit that includes items such as a weather radio, food, water, flashlight, clothes for different types of weather, list of needed medications and an extra set of car keys. For more information on emergency preparedness, visit www.ready.gov.
Pour said sometimes it helps to think of what one would need on a camping trip.
Belleville Police Bill Clay said emergency personnel on the local, state and federal level will do their best to respond. But residents also have to be prepared to be self-sufficient for a few days because first responders likely will face hurdles reaching all residents.
The Police Department could be one of the buildings knocked down by a tornado or the roads might be blocked so officials can't get to certain parts of the city, Clay said.
Another way neighborhoods could prepare is by designating a block captain that could account for each person who lives on that block. That way, when first responders arrive, they can touch base with one person and learn if there are people missing or who needs what supplies.
Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said residents should also designate a meeting place for their family. Emergency command centers and distribution sites likely will be at City Hall or Engine House 4 at the intersection of Illinois 159 and Illinois 15.
"Until it becomes personal, there's apathy, but those same storms in Joplin and Oklahoma come in this direction, so it could happen here," Eckert said. "The more people we can educate, the less people will be hurt if there's tragedy."
Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/BNDBelleville.