Who’s got your number?

Ace, it’s not an emergency or anything, but I’m curious about this community phone system that can alert the community to crisis by calling everyone in an imperiled area. Who gets to use it and for what? Earthquakes? UFOs? A GOP invasion?—Chatty Cathy

Cathy, Cathy, Cathy, talking dogs are more likely to take over our fair city government than Karl Rove devotees! But should the impossible come to pass, it’s conceivable that Charlottesville’s desperate bobos, like latter day Paul Reveres, could turn to the City Watch System (as the community caller is officially known) to sound the citywide alarm.

   Indeed, that would be a desperate situation calling for desperate measures. According to Charlottesville’s go-to man for all questions concerning city minutiae, Director of Communications Maurice Jones, City Watch is set up for two purposes and two purposes only: To alert neighborhoods of danger or disaster and to tell individual neighborhoods about upcoming City meetings that concern their stomping grounds.

   For example, in the past City Watch has had residents hanging on the telephone for flood warnings, an escaped fugitive and a loose bear. Lately, it has dialed up the residents of North Downtown to alert them to a change in the Dogwood Parade itinerary and to tell neighborhoods about upcoming meetings for the City’s Comprehensive Plan that might concern their areas.

   It is not, however, to be used to alert all neighborhoods of more general City meetings. Thwarted City Council candidate and creationism apologist Ann Reinicke apparently didn’t understand this condition when she picked up her telephone and recorded a City Watch message reminding everyone in town of an upcoming election task force meeting. It was no biggie, though, says Jones. There’s no official punishment for misuse of the community caller, just a little “Don’t do that again, please” discussion.

   While anyone is eligible to use City Watch, you must first receive the proper training and authorization from the City, explains Jones. After that, you can activate the service from your home telephone.

   Finally, the system has access to all published landlines. But if you’re a cellphone-only type, you might be left high and dry in the event that aliens land in the Mas parking lot. If, that is, you’re also the type who avoids TV and radio and lives under one of those rocks in our rapidly disappearing woods.

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