Cambridge ECC (the PSAP for Cambridge MA.) has used a Police Dept. Reverse 911 system to call residents to warn them of upcoming street cleaning. Typically 50-200 cars can be towed in a day when street cleaning starts up in April after the winter season when no street cleaning is done.
On Tuesday May 2, 2002, the system was programmed to call residential phones in Tow District A between 9 AM and 8:30 PM. The message was:
“This is the City of Cambridge calling with a friendly reminder that on Wednesday and Thursday street cleaning will begin for the season in your area. Street cleaning occurs between 8 AM and 2 PM. To avoid being towed, we recommend that you check the street signs in the area where you park your vehicle for the dates, times, and side of the street to be cleaned. If you have any questions regarding street cleaning, please contact the Department of Public Works at 617-349-4800. Details can also be found on the city’s Web site at www.ci.cambridge.ma.us.”
Using a R911 system with 17 connected phone lines, it took 4.5 hours to call 2949 residential phones in that area. The R911 system reported that it reached 1190 answering machines (the preferred way of leaving a message for residents). Another 389 phone numbers were reached and it played the entire 45-sec message. 1055 phone lines, however, were either not reached, hung up prior to the full message, or got an operator intercept code. So about 1/2 of dialed lines were reached (the commercially installed phone database appears to have many incorrect numbers).
On Wednesday May 3, 86 cars were towed compared with 125 the previous year (a 31% decrease). On Thursday May 4, 63 cars were towed compared with 71 the previous year (an 11% decrease).
Four or five persons called the public works number to ask “what did they say?” and one person called to say “Nice idea, and it helped remind me, but take me off the list”.
Dispatchers and tow crews (police officers and DPW pickup trucks who also make a loudspeaker announcement) were pleased with the lessened workload and reduced encounters with upset residents. Citizens reported favorably about the system; some who were towed even said “I got the message but just forgot…”). The City Council said they liked the system’s usage.