Have a plan. Be prepared. Do you know what to do if ... ?

I see these billboards around towns and on highways throughout Michigan. They encourage us to think ahead, to have an emergency preparedness plan, or to purchase insurance in the event the unthinkable happens.

On Feb. 20, the unthinkable happened in our community. Jason Dalton allegedly drove throughout Kalamazoo County randomly shooting people. In the seven hours between the first shooting and his apprehension by law enforcement, six people were left dead and two others were hospitalized with severe injuries.

For me, like many others, that Saturday night was just another night. I was downtown, had dinner with friends, and stopped for gas on my way home. I had no idea that at the very moment I was standing at the gas pump, a killer was driving throughout our community looking for his next victims. It wasn’t until I got home and turned on the news that I found out what was happening.

If I had known what was going on I would have acted differently that night. But, on a normal Saturday night, many of us are consumed with our personal lives and not necessarily paying attention to the news or our social media accounts.

That is why I introduced House Bill 5442 to establish a public threat alert system. Such a system will give law enforcement the guidance and tools necessary to alert the public of threats to public safety. The alerts, which would work much like the Amber Alert system, would send messages out via the Emergency Alert System on television and radio and would also send text message warnings to cellphones in the impacted area. The bill has already received unanimous approval by the House Communications and Technology Committee.

Being prepared is important, but having the information necessary to make a plan is vital. The better the information, the better the plan. By giving law enforcement the tools and guidance necessary to get important information to the public in a timely and efficient manner, we can help ensure individuals have the information they need to make a plan to keep themselves and their families safe.

I hope we never have to use the system I am proposing. I hope our phones never buzz, chirp or flash with the warning that we are in the vicinity of someone desiring to hurt innocent bystanders. However, if they do, I will be thankful for the chance to plan.

State Rep. Brandt Iden, R-Portage, serves the 61st District in the Michigan House of Representatives.

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