Imagine this. You're sitting at home, the phone rings and it's a recording from the police warning you about danger in your neighborhood. If you haven't ever taken a phone call like this, chances are you'll get one sooner or later.
It's a high-tech system, brand new to Lubbock and paid for with law enforcement block grants. It will alert your family about door to door scams, robberies in your part of town or even chemical spills near your home, and one Lubbock teen is already proof, the system works.
"Let's just say our train derailed right here at Brownfield and Quaker with a southerly wind," says Cpl. Mark Long with the LPD, talking about a hypothetical train crash and chemical spill. Presuming it were to happen in real life, Long says this is how you would be alerted.
"I would identify myself. I would say, 'This is Cpl. Mark Long with the LPD. We wanted to advise you that there's been a chemical spill at Quaker and the Brownfield Highway. With the winds we anticipate that you may be affected and request that you evacuate," says Long.
Just last week in Slaton, a ruptured pipe at a fertilizer plant spewed a toxic cloud of ammonia into the air. Police went door to door evacuating one household at a time. If that were to happen here in Lubbock, a different kind of system would spring to action, dialing 24 households at a time. Much more efficient than going door to door. "It dials you up and lets you know of an impending emergency," says Sgt. Bill Casey.
The system allows police to pinpoint a section of the city in danger. It could be one street, it could be several square miles. "We could notify the whole city if we needed to," says Casey. The alert system is as specific as the police want it to be. For example, alerting just financial institutions if there's been a bank robbery, just residents if there's a door to door scam.
19-year-old Becky Craig knows all too well how the system works. She was home alone last week when she picked up the phone and heard this recording: "Hello, this is Sgt. Mike Steen of the Lubbock Police Department. There have been several instances in your area of a well dressed White or Hispanic male knocking on doors, offering to install insulation for free. The man enters the home and looks around and then leaves. The man is in his 20's, long black hair, slicked back. This man does not work for a roofing company as he claims. If you have any information...."
Becky didn't know at the time if the recording was legitimate or a hoax. But she locked the doors just in case. "I called my Mom and asked her about this recording because I had never heard of it. She said no, but told me to go ahead and leave the house just in case. So, I was coming down the stairs and the doorbell rang and I was like, 'Oh my gosh!' And my heart just skipped a beat," says Becky.
No one knows for sure if it was the scam artist at Becky's door that afternoon. Becky, admittedly, was too frightened to look. But she knows now the police alert was genuine, and it quite possibly spared her from being robbed or even worse. "I wish I would have known about it, but at the same time, it made me second guess myself enough not to answer the door."
The LPD paid for the system with a block grant. It cost $47,000 and is now up and running.