MEMPHIS, Tenn. — One year ago today, Ezekiel Kelly’s hours-long rampage in Memphis frightened people to shelter in place, but it led Shelby County first responders to develop a warning system to save lives.
On September 7, 2022, a usually bustling Memphis, Tennessee came to a grinding halt. For several hours, Ezekiel Kelly’s alleged shooting spree, part of which was live-streamed on social media, spread panic throughout the Memphis area.
Three people were killed, and six others were injured.
First responders in Shelby County say that one event was a flashpoint for finding a better way to alert the masses about emergencies.
“In that case, this individual was mobile. He was all over the place. He was very erratic,” said Charles Newell, deputy administrator for Shelby County Emergency Management and Homeland Security. “It caused everybody, all emergency management and first responders to take a look at to see what we have on hand, or we can get to notify the masses of the people in case there was a situation like this.”
In December, Shelby County Emergency Management and Homeland Security launched a new countywide text alert system called IPAWS.
IPAWS stands for Integrated Public Alert and Warning System. It’s a part of FEMA and was created back in 2006.
“It’s a mass communication apparatus where it can alert the masses of the people in case there is a major disaster, weather related, terroristic act,” Newell said.
In this case, first responders say last September’s rampage would be a homegrown terror.
“That would have been an ideal situation where IPAWS would be used,” Newell said.
Through IPAWS, anyone in Shelby County can receive an emergency text message on their mobile phone. It’s similar to receiving an AMBER Alert notification.
“We would have been notified of the situation, and we would send out an IPAWS message, which would connect to your telephone, and that text message would be sent out to warn the people of the possible impending dangers,” Newell said.
It’s why many hope Shelby County’s new IPAWS system can better protect and warn people when there’s danger.
“We are elated we do have this capability. We test it every month. So, we know it’s ready to go in case it’s necessary,” Newell said.
FEMA says whether you are a resident or visitor, as long as you’re connected to a Shelby County cell tower, you will receive an IPAWS alert.