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SPECIAL REPORT: Emergency Alert Failures

SPECIAL REPORT: Emergency Alert Failures

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(CBS 58) -- Our cell phones can help keep us safe nowadays, with emergency text alerts becoming an increasingly familiar part of our lives.

We get Amber Alerts, there was the presidential test last year, and many southeast Wisconsin counties can send out automatic notifications as well.

The system isn’t perfect though.

In December, an armed subject barricaded himself in his Pleasant Prairie home, and many cell phones blared with a warning from the Kenosha County Sheriff’s Department to stay indoors.

While police and sheriff’s deputies resolved the situation, Jeff Peadro was nearby, home with his wife and three sons, unaware of what was going on.

"We were signed up to get those alerts and we had not received any alerts,” Peadro said. “We had no idea until we got on Facebook later that night."

The Peadros were disappointed to learn later their safety was potentially put at risk.

"Heaven forbid what if this was a school shooting?” Peadro said. “What if there was an active threat running through neighborhoods? That does not make me feel safe at all."

We asked the Pleasant Prairie police chief how the public was notified that night.

He said posts were made to Facebook and Twitter, but no text alerts were sent out to more than 500 residents who had subscribed.

The chief called it “an oversight” and he said, in retrospect, they should’ve sent the texts.

Peadro also missed out on the Kenosha Sheriff notifications, and he wasn’t alone.

“I didn’t get any alert,” Corinne Gagnon said. “That’s weird because I always get alerts. If I don’t know that there’s someone shooting a gun next door, I need to know.”

Kenosha County’s Emergency Management Office admitted to us there were technical issues that night with the cell towers, so some people subscribed to alerts never had their phones go off.

Officials there didn’t know if the issues are fixed either, saying it depends on the location of the incident.

Milwaukee County doesn’t ask people to sign up for alerts.

"They start thinking about 'Do I really want this?' In a lot of cases people say no,” said Kevin Shermach with county’s Office of Emergency Management.

Milwaukee County doesn’t have a mass notification system either. That’s changing this year.

In March, as a test, a blanket alert will be sent out to all phones within a two-mile radius of the Safety Building downtown.

It’s in preparation to be able to let the entire county know when there’s a real emergency.

"We'll limit it to tornado warnings, flash flood warnings, high wind warnings,” Shermach said. "We don't want this to be like ‘Hey there's a traffic backup.’ We want to really limit it to what are those instances where you have to act right now and can't wait."

Racine and Jefferson Counties also have automatic blanket alert systems.

Peadro says he’d just like to see a more unified effort between the counties and cities to alert people when something’s wrong.

"It's coordination and without coordination we can't have security and safety,” he said.

Experts also advise having an emergency plan within your own family that covers how to reach each other, where to meet and what to bring.

You can sign up for emergency text alerts in the following counties:

Waukesha County

Kenosha County 

Walworth County 

Fond du Lac County

Dodge County 

Ozaukee County

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