City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz Monday night got the City Council to approve operating procedures for a new mass notification system by which the city can reach out and touch residents with information by phone whenever it wants.

Generally speaking, it’s a neat concept and one that’s already used in many other communities.

But we see two problems with the way the system is being implemented.

First, it doesn’t let residents opt out of receiving most types of messages.

So, if you don’t have a car — or if you always park your car off the street in a garage — you can still expect to get calls on your home phone this week telling you there’s a snow emergency and you shouldn’t park on the street.

And, other than getting a new unlisted phone number, there doesn’t seem to be any way to stop such messages from coming.

Check boxes for seven of ten alert categories are grayed out on the message system signup page — meaning residents can’t opt-out of receiving them.

Alderman Mark Tendam, 6th Ward, raised the “opt-out” issue Monday night, but didn’t pursue it when he was told residents can’t.

We’re willing to concede the possibility that for some types of truly life-threatening emergency situations, the city perhaps should be able to bar people from opting out of receiving alerts by phone.

But we don’t think the announcement of snow parking rules rises to that level.

And we think the wiser course of action would be to give residents the maximum level of control about what intrusions on their solitude they have to accept from the city.

Second, there appears to be no restriction in the city’s written operating procedures for the system about what times of the day or night residents can be disturbed with various types of calls.

While you can opt out of getting calls promoting community events, shouldn’t there also be rules in place to prevent a call publicizing an upcoming ward meeting from waking you up at 1 a.m.? 

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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1 Comment

  1. An opt out is imperative

    This system must have an opt out. The categories shown above ("special events", "ward meetings") cannot even be considered emergencies of any sort. And honestly, when will the city be in a position to disclose breaking news? Will we get calls when the power is off to tell us the power is off?

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