Reverse 911 calls took hours to reach some people after boil water notice

Reverse 911 calls took hours to reach some people after boil water notice »Play Video

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Portland's reverse 911 system started reaching out to about 415,000 people right after the boil water notice was announced.

Some 15,000 text messages and emails went out almost immediately.

400,000 calls to land line phones went out slower. A lot slower.

“Four or five hours, which is typical if you're going to be calling 400,000 numbers,” says Dan Douthit, spokesman for Portland’s Bureau of Emergency Management. “Unfortunately, just the nature of making land line calls, there's not much we can do about it.”

The Portland Water Bureau discovered the first drinking water sample positive for E. coli on May 20.

More samples had to be taken to confirm that first positive test. That took even more time.

"What happens after that,” said Water Bureau Administrator David Shaff, “is that you take subsequent re-samples so you sample upstream from the event downstream from the event and at the same site."

Portland's Bureau of Emergency Services says there's not much they can do with the existing system, which is contracted to the city by First Call.

The site promotes "immediate" notification, but it's geared toward neighborhood warnings, not notifications for a citywide emergency.

The Emergency Services Bureau may look at competing systems with newer technology soon. They'll also look at ways to tweak the existing system.

“We get a report every time we use the system. We'll take a look at it and see if we need to make any adjustments afterwards,” said Douthit.