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Berkeley Emergency Notification System Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Did you know that in an emergency, you could receive a call from the City of Berkeley with recorded information about missing children, hazardous material spills, and other dangerous conditions in your neighborhood? Please read the following frequently asked questions about the Berkeley Emergency Notification System (BENS) and follow the signup link to receive BENS messages on your cellular phone or VOIP phone service. Sign up for BENS or access your BENS subscriber account here

 What is BENS?

 The Berkeley Emergency Notification System (BENS) allows the City to call residents at home to give them critical public safety information. This service is also known as an "outdialer" or a "reverse 911" system and is for emergency notifications. 

 Calls from BENS are pre-recorded and the speaker will be very clear that it is an emergency call from the City of Berkeley. If the call is a test of the system, the message will be stated very clearly.  

 One of the essential features of this system is that it allows the City to choose a targeted geographical area to deliver the message. For example, if a residential area were threatened by a wildfire, the residents that have AT&T land line phone service or have signed up their cell phones or VOIP telephone numbers may receive an evacuation message. 

 Is this the same as the University of California Berkeley's WarnMe system?

 No. While UC and the City of Berkeley often cooperate on public safety issues, BENS and the WarnMe system are separate systems.  If you have already signed up for WarnMe, you must still sign up separately for BENS (AT&T landline service subscribers within the City of Berkeley are automatically registered for BENS). 

 What does this cost?

 The City doesn't charge for the service, so it won't cost you any more than any other phone call or text message would. 

 How do you know my phone number?

 Every month, AT&T provides updated landline telephone and address information to the City.  This information is for emergency use only and will not be used or distributed for any other reason.  Again, only AT&T land line service telephone numbers are automatically signed up with the system.  Those with another type of telephone service must sign up to participate in the BENS system. 

 I only have a cell phone: What should I do?

 You can sign up to receive BENS messages on your cell phone or any other alternate number by visiting You can sign up a cell or pager number to receive an SMS, or text, message. These messages are limited to 160 characters, and you may be charged for receiving them. If you provide your email address as well, you will receive the same message there. 

 You will be asked for your physical address and your cell phone will be connected to that address. We need your address because calls are often made to specific geographic areas such as streets, blocks or neighborhoods. Visit the registration page again to update your address or phone numbers. 

 If I have a business in Berkeley but live elsewhere, can I sign up? Can my employees also sign up?

 Yes- the cell phone numbers just have to be assigned to an address. 

 Can anyone else get my landline or cell phone number from you?

 The information you give us is kept confidential and would only be disclosed if required by a court of law. 

 How often will BENS be activated?

 BENS is an emergency system and is used infrequently. The City has had this service since 2004. The system is tested annually for emergency exercises. The Berkeley Police Department most recently activated BENS for assistance in locating a lost child. 

 Why was my BENS notification delayed or never arrived?     

 When a BENS alert is sent, it is transmitted to landline switches, cell phone towers and email servers. The speed of delivery is then left in the hands of the telecommunication providers. Email services often slow down or block bulk emails thinking they are SPAM regardless of the source. Phone switches and cell towers can be overwhelmed with messages. Some settings on cell phones and email clients may block messages. For email, check the settings for filters and spam and see if you can prioritize messages from Please register multiple email addresses and phone numbers and check with those providers to ensure your technology can receive texts and bulk email.  

  Will BENS work in an earthquake?   

 Although the calls are recorded and activated by City of Berkeley staff, the company and the technology are located outside of California, to reduce the chance that the service will be disrupted in a natural disaster. Although it is difficult to predict what infrastructure damage will result from an earthquake, BENS will work as long as the local telephone company exchanges are functional. In an emergency, you should still tune your radio to a news station or 1610 AM for regional public safety information. 

 There is a logo on the registration page- who is FirstCall?

 FirstCall is the company that the City has selected to provide this service. By contract, FirstCall cannot use any information the City provide for any other client or service and all information is kept confidential. 

 What else can I do to prepare?

 Visit to learn more about Berkeley's preparedness efforts and to find important information to help you, your family, and your community prepare.  


 If you have any concerns or questions about the Berkeley Emergency Notification System, please call the Office of Emergency Services at 981-5605 or email 

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