Hail and storm damage

Cars drive through a flooded roadway on Rimrock Road following a hailstorm and high winds in Billings on Thursday. 

If you are among the 10,000 Yellowstone County residents who signed up for CodeRED on your phone this spring, but didn't receive alerts on the severe thunderstorms that hailed on you last month, it's time to revisit the county emergency services web page.

The web page and the choices available to county residents changed over the summer, according to K.C. Williams, county disaster and emergency services director.

Back in April when CodeRED debuted in this county, the web page didn't include a sign up for severe weather warnings — although many of us (including the editorial writer) thought that's what we were signing up for.

Now there are boxes to check for "Optional severe weather warnings." Each CodeRED user can check boxes to be notified of warnings for tornado, severe thunderstorm, flash flood and winter storm — or the user may choose to check for alerts on only some of those types of National Weather Service warnings. Users may choose to be notified by phone, text or both. The alerts can be sent to a cell phone or a land line.

There is no charge to the user for any of those alerts.

To get your alert choices updated or to sign up for CodeRED:

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  • Go to www.co.yellowstone.mt.gov/des/
  • Click on "Register online."
  • On the next screen, if you already have a user name and password, look in the top right corner for "Login" and log in.
  • Scroll down to find the weather alert choices.
  • If you don't already have an account, you may create one by entering your address and phone number. You may create a "managed account" by choosing a user name and password that will allow you to sign in to change or update your address or alert preferences.
  • If you don't want a user name and password, you may still sign up for emergency alerts and weather alerts at no charge. When you want to change your address or alert preferences, you will have to sign up again rather than logging in.
  • If you don't have internet access, phone Yellowstone County Disaster Services for assistance at 256-2775.

There's a difference between "emergency" and "severe weather" notifications, according to Williams. The emergency alerts come from Yellowstone County, which, for example, sent out alerts recently on the Mountainview fire that burned for days between Molt and Billings. The weather alerts come from the National Weather Service and are delivered via the CodeRED system to all users in the geographic area covered by that NWS warning.

Consider checking both "emergency" and "weather." Another choice, "general notifications" may include such things as roadwork closures or city snow plowing schedules.

The Yellowstone County Emergency Services web page also has an option for downloading the CodeRED app from either Apple or Android stores. There is currently a charge of 99 cents for the app, a charge that Williams said is going away by year's end. The app is designed to receive NWS severe weather alerts wherever the phone is, so it would provide alerts as the user travels. 

The CodeRED roll out in our county has been bumpy. Communications on this new-to-us emergency communications system has fallen short. Despite the frustration so far, emergency alerts are vital for public safety in the event of severe weather, wildfires and other hazards. Not knowing in advance increases risk of injury, death and property damage. Despite the problems here, CodeRED has been used successfully for years in other states and even in other Montana counties.

Give CodeRED another try, Yellowstone County. Let us know how it goes; send your comments to speakup@billingsgazette.com.

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Opinion Editor

Opinion editor for The Billings Gazette.