You may have received alerts from the city of Berkeley telling you it’s changing the way it sends alerts.

Confused? You’re not alone. The city’s alerting system, which gets more sophisticated as technology advances, has gone through several changes in recent years.

The city of Berkeley stopped funneling AC Alert notifications to its Nixle channel, urging residents to make sure they are signed up for both systems.

The city’s recent change affects only people who are signed up for the city’s Nixle alerts, from police, but not AC Alert, from fire and emergency services. Until last week, the city was funneling AC Alert into the Nixle system, so people signed up for Nixle were getting both types of messages. Now, if you’re on Nixle but not AC Alert, you will no longer receive AC Alert notifications.

The change was made to prevent redundant messages and confusion.

Sarah Lana, Berkeley’s emergency services coordinator, said it will not “change anything about the types of messages we’re going to send on AC Alert or that BPD (Berkeley Police Department) is going to send on Nixle.”

“It’s just decoupling so that AC alert messages are not getting forwarded to Nixle subscribers.”

The city’s notification landscape

For the past several years, like most cities in Alameda County, Berkeley has operated two systems for notifying people of emergency and non-emergency situations such as crime, red flag days, stay-at-home orders, utility work and missing people.

Both systems are “opt-in,” meaning you must sign up online to receive the alerts. However, there is one exception: In life-threatening emergencies, the city’s Office of Emergency Services may automatically use telephone landlines, with no signup required.

Here’s a breakdown:

Nixle is activated by the Berkeley Police Department for emergencies and non-emergencies such as street closures, crime, missing people and, at times, fires. Messages are ostensibly sent via text, email and social media, although the text functionality has become inconsistent. The city views Nixle as a broad community messaging tool, Lana said. Alerts can be targeted to specific zip codes. The city funds Nixle.

AC Alert is activated by fire and emergency services (using a system managed by Alameda County’s Office of Emergency Services) and is used for matters of safety and life, such as a fire, red flag days or shelter-in-place updates. Urgent messages are sent via text, phone, push alerts and social media. But the system sometimes sends less critical notifications via email and social media while skipping texts. The county funds AC Alert.

In 2014, the city of Berkeley adopted Nixle, enabling police to alert residents of crime and safety matters via social media, mobile phones and computers.

In 2015, Everbridge, a global communications platform that operates AC Alert, bought San Francisco-based Nixle, developers of the increasingly popular notification software.

In 2017, Berkeley launched AC Alert for critical disaster notifications. It replaced an earlier, more limited system called the Berkeley Emergency Notification System. At the time, the city said Nixle and AC Alert could become more integrated in the future but urged people to sign up for both systems.

Around a year ago, some of that integration started, with AC Alert notifications also going out via Nixle — a doubling up of messaging for Nixle users. Berkeley ended this practice last week, the city said in a prepared statement.

Channeling AC Alert notifications through Nixle led to redundant messages and slowed down the notification process, said Lana: “We decided it would be better to prioritize getting the message out quickly.”

A reminder to sign up for alerts

This latest change serves as a reminder for people to sign up for AC Alerts.

“We have a high bar for what constitutes a message on AC Alert; it’s related to life safety,” said Lana, adding that it is used to “tell people who are in danger.”

Freelancer Catherine "Kate" Rauch has been contributing to Berkeleyside for several years. Her work as a journalist has encompassed everything from 10 years as a daily news reporter for the East Bay Times,...