Allen County looking to get its own alert system

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Allen County is working to get a new system that would send notifications to cell phones in emergencies. It would be used for all kinds of alerts like weather emergencies or traffic hazards, but it could also help get the word out to the public about an abducted child more quickly than the Amber Alert process.

“We can’t quantify if this would have helped at all, but we’ll never know because the information didn’t go out,” Ron Rayl, the interim director of the Consolidated Communications Partnership of Fort Wayne and Allen County, said.

When little Rene Pasztor and Liliana Hernandez were abducted from their Allen County home on September 26, the sheriff’s department worked as quickly as they could to get an Amber Alert out. Their non-custodial mother, Amber Pasztor, had taken them. But, the process of getting the information required for an official statewide Amber Alert to be issued took nearly 5 hours. Rayl wants to cut the time to alerting the public down by installing a local alert system.

“We could put out localized notices while we’re working on getting the national Amber Alert system started,” he said. “It would be enhancing what we already have; a localized system with the target of our local people and we can change and update as the situation changes and more information is learned.”

People will be able to sign up to get notifications on their cell phones, but the system would also be able to ping all phones in a certain area, even ones just driving through.

“We need this general information out at a quicker pace. By the time the suspect, let’s say migrates out of the Allen County, like they did in this case, by the time they get to that level, we should have the Amber Alert up and running so people outside our area are also getting that information,” Rayl said.

With a local system, push notifications to people in Allen County could have started around 7:40 the morning of Allen County’s Amber Alert.

“Once officers at the scene were convinced that there was an abduction and they were convinced we knew who the suspect was, we’d start putting out alerts. If she goes through Burger King, let’s say, or goes in to pay for some gas, someone could recognize her and say I just heard about her. Then boom, we could have a missing child alert update. We can add that we now have vehicle information and a partial license plate. Then one minute, five minutes, maybe 30 minutes later, we get something new that’s beneficial, boom, we can put that out,” Rayl explained.

The Amber Alert process requires very specific information and it has to be entered into several databases correctly before the Indiana State Police can send out the statewide alert. When an alert is issued, the state said it prefers to only send one push notification to cell phones because the thought is that several alerts with updated information will make people desensitized to them and people will turn off their phone alerts. But Rayl disagreed.

“People are used to things being changed and updated,” he said. “It’s an informational society that’s based on gathering and having more information at their fingertips and they’re willing to go back time and time again to be notified when there’s a change on the alert.”

Pasztor told NewsChannel 15 in an interview from jail that the Amber Alert is what made her decide to kill her children. The Allen County Sheriff’s Department said Wednesday that her statements will not stop them from issuing Amber Alerts or abducted children alerts in the future. Alerting the public quickly still increases the chances of finding the children unharmed.

The county’s new alert system would cost around $40,000. Rayl couldn’t say when it could be online, but the goal is as soon as possible.

The system would be used for more than abducted or missing children investigations. Rayl said it could be used for snow emergencies, severe weather warnings, road closures from storm damage or crashes, and even special events. The technology would allow them to direct messages to very specific areas.

“Like the weather issue at the State Fair several years ago. We can send notice to everyone in a venue to tell them to seek cover. Or like the Luke Bryan concert. We can send notices to everyone in that venue to help direct them leaving,” Rayl said.