How Can You Know If There Is a Local Emergency?

Earlier today I was working on a project when I heard a helicopter outside.

It wasn’t just that I heard a helicopter; it was that I realized that I had been hearing a helicopter for a while, and I my brain decided that the sound was persistent enough to justify investigation.

I opened balcony door. The helicopter wasn’t visible–it was audibly nearby, but not right outside. There may even have been more than one.

I went back to work, but a half hour later, the sounds of the helicopters were still there. Something was happening nearby.

Here’s what led to this blog post: I knew something was happening, but I have no idea how to find out exactly what it was. Was there a manhunt in progress? Some sort of attack? A series of medical emergencies? A newsworthy event?

After about an hour, the sound went away. I still don’t know what happened.

Is there any way to know when a local emergency is in progress? I get amber alerts on my phone from time to time, and we have a tornado alert system in St. Louis, but beyond that I don’t know where to learn about hyper-local, hyper-current emergencies. Is there a website or an app for this?

17 thoughts on “How Can You Know If There Is a Local Emergency?”

  1. This happened to me one time. After the forth or fifth emergency vehicle driving past our house we finally starting searching. Found out on Twitter from the local police’s Twitter updates what was going on. That and maybe a news stations Twitter is probably the best way I can think of.

  2. Your city’s subeddit is probably one of the best places. In Ottawa I find that those sort of things have threads dedicated to them (with useful information) way faster than any of the local news sources, or major Twitter accounts.

  3. I have a police/fire scanner app on my phone. It automatically alerts me if more than xxx number of people are listening. Our county has an emergency alert system through our cell phones. We will get a doG awful loud alert on our phones and a text as to what the problem is. You can opt into it here (in Santa Clara County, CA)

  4. I use the Nextdoor app/website too. It’s been pretty informative about things I would not have otherwise known, like a rash of car break ins in the area. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have that happen to me, mostly because I’ve been diligently clearing out my car and locking it every night since I know there is a problem.

    Otherwise, I mostly see it used for:

    1. Asking for recommendations for services like lawn care, handymen, auto mechanics, etc.

    2. Lost pet alerts

    3. Issues like the one you described. I saw a ton of police activity just down the road from my house one afternoon and learned shortly after on Nextdoor that it was due to a suspicious package at a FedEx store. I wouldn’t rely on it in a true emergency, but it’s good for information after the fact.

    Weirdly enough, since I’ve moved to my new neighborhood about a year ago, there is a new post at least every other week about someone hearing a loud boom, usually at night. Several other people will comment that they heard it too.

    As helpful as Nextdoor is, no one has ever figured out what the booms are….

    • Thanks Katie! I’ve signed up for Nextdoor–it seems like it could be helpful in this instance. I opted out of notifications, though, as I thought it might be too much. How often do you get notifications from it?

      • I get notifications once a day, but they are filtered to my “social” tab on Gmail, so I don’t have to deal with it if I don’t want to. It contains the headlines of all the posts for the day, which just takes a second to scroll through. If I see something interesting, I can always click to go to the post.

        FYI, I’m subbed to the St. Louis subreddit and it does have some info, but most of it doesn’t pertain to my area. It’s not a dead sub by any means, but most posts don’t have a ton of activity on them either. It’s nice to see what’s going on in the city as a whole, but most of it isn’t specifically relevant to me.

  5. I’ve created a Twitter list with Twitter accounts like the local police departement, fire department, newspaper, radio station and so on. Sometimes, but not all the time, I can figure out what’s going on from there.

    I live in a small town (330 thousand inhabitants) Sweden so things might be different. My solution might not work for you.

  6. Besides subscribing to the local Police/Fire Department on Facebook, I also subscribe to Nixle. You can select what ways you’d like to be notified of things happening in your area. This includes road closures, etc.

  7. Your police department might have an app (the small one I work for does) that alerts you if there is something residents should be aware of. Ours is mostly used for road closures due to traffic incidents or power outages so it may not help in the case you described. Unfortunately alerting people of an important police situation seems to attract people to a scene so we usually only divulge information after the situation has ended.

    As other people have mentioned, NextDoor can be useful in certain situations (we used when our dog escaped our yard) but in my neighborhood it’s mostly used for recommendations and lost pets as Katie pointed out.

    • Thanks Charles! That’s a good point about not wanting to cause a scene (unless it’s a safety warning that impacts people).


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