Yellowstone County's emergency alert sirens — those giant, Cold War-era klaxons that sit on towers around Billings — will sound for last time next week.
County and city officials have adopted Code RED, a smartphone-based emergency alert system they'll now use to notify county residents through their phones when natural disasters and other emergencies in the area occur.
On April 17, the county will fire up the sirens one last time and send out a test notification through the Code RED system.
"Our sirens are going to go dead," said Denis Pitman, Yellowstone County commissioner. "That's probably the last time you'll hear them in the county."
Officials are working to get the word out. In order to get the Code RED alerts, smartphone users must download the Code RED app. Those who don't, will not receive emergency alerts on their phones.
The alerts are sent out either by the 911 call center or by the county's department of emergency services. They range from high-priority natural disaster warnings like wildfires and tornadoes; to urban events like refinery fires or road closures; to low-priority alerts like when city snow plows will be running through a specific neighborhood.
Depending on the emergency, the alerts are targeted and can be narrowly tailored. If an event affects only a neighborhood or a single building, the alerts can be sent out only to those residents.
Many of the region's school districts have also signed on to use the system, including Billings Public Schools.
To sign up for Code RED, county residents are asked to visit www.co.yellowstone.mt.gov/des and follow the instructions.