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County partners with SirenGPS for community alerts

Walker County has a new and improved method for the public to receive emergency and community notifications. The SirenGPS app can send push notifications to smartphones in a matter of seconds, keeping residents alerted to bad weather and other community concerns or interests.

"While our primary use of this notification system will be for emergency situations, we also have the capability to geofence or draw a map around a certain area that will only notify folks in that area of things like a water outage, power outage or road closure," said Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Blake Hodge.

SirenGPS will only send residents who sign-up for the free service one alert, so if they receive the push notification from the app, the system will check them off as being notified. 60 seconds later, SirenGPS will send out text messages to those who still need to be notified. 60 seconds after that, anyone still in need of an alert will get a phone call.

Chief Hodge added, "We're concentrating on trying to limit landline usage because our infrastructure can cause a delay of more than an hour if everyone in the county were to receive a phone call. So this new delivery, with an app push notification, is going to be key to the success of this notification system."

SirenGPS immediately replaces Walker County's Hyper-Reach notification system. Residents are urged to download the free SirenGPS app, which is available for Apple and Android devices. Those who do not have a smartphone and wish to receive a text or phone call should contact Tina in the Walker County Commissioner's Office at 706-638-1437.

"While our primary use of this notification system will be for emergency situations, we also have the capability to geofence or draw a map around a certain area that will only notify folks in that area of things like a water outage, power outage or road closure."

— Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Blake Hodge

LaFayette addressing the growing homeless problem

Andy Arnold

Chris Davis

Judy Meeks

After a fairly routine LaFayette council meeting Monday night (Feb. 11) during which more than 40 Honeybee Festival sponsors were honored, the mood turned somber when a letter from the Georgia Department of Public Health was shared noting that the number of Hepatitis A cases in the city had skyrocketed from one to 40.

Hepatitis A is often spread through intravenous drug use, especially among the homeless, explained the letter, and LaFayette has seen its homeless population soar from two about a year or so ago to an estimated 40-50 individuals currently, Mayor Andy Arnold said.

Small homeless "camps" have sprung up in several sections of town, including a camp under a South Main Street bridge where officials found numerous needles.

Arnold and others present stressed that the problem was not one of and caused by "local" homeless individuals. The mayor said that just a year ago he knew all four of the city's homeless residents by name, but that news had spread by mouth and by text that LaFayette was and is a safe haven for the homeless. And so they came ... and come, Arnold said.

Therefore, to combat the spread of Hepatitis A, the CDC is scheduling a visit, bringing 70 initial vaccinations, and will work with city police and EMS to reach and inoculate as many homeless as possible, especially around a local church ministry which serves area residents, including the homeless, appropriately — and ironically — called The Haven.

But what concerns the officials and families of LaFayette is not just or primarily the spread of Hepatitis A. What concerns officials, it was repeatedly voiced at the council meeting, is an influx and presence of strangers around town, using drugs, begging and harassing residents in stores and on the city's streets and parking lots. Councilman Chris Davis clearly expressed the consensus of those present Monday night: "The city of LaFayette is not a homeless shelter," he said.

Nearly every section of town has noted an increased presence of the homeless, an increase in people whom residents don't recognize, and an increase in their movement, especially up and down the streets

"The city of LaFayette is not a homeless shelter."

— LaFayette Councilman Chris Davis

While there are no local laws against being homeless and while the city cannot control people's living environments (as some live in their vehicles, vacant buildings or even open, vacant lots or field), the negative effect of the present increase in homeless people in town can already be noted and felt. Store employees, customers and others have expressed to council members that they feel increasingly uncomfortable, nervous and even afraid going to their cars or even pumping gas when "strangers" are around and watching.

Homeowners who were recently quite comfortable leaving their homes and vehicles unlocked have told council members that now they are making sure everything is locked down, as they have been awakened during the night by their dogs barking or charging at something — or someone — on their property, around their vehicles, or even sneaking around on their porch.

Councilwoman Judy Meeks said it is now becoming "dangerous for kids to be playing outside, for who knows what these strangers will do?" And the children pick up on the fears of the parents, and some are already becoming fearful and paranoid as well.

It was further noted, by Davis and other members of the council, that no one knows what diseases these homeless carry, what drugs they are on, what mental health issues they may have, and what criminal tendencies and backgrounds (sex abuse, child sex abuse, robbery, even murder) these transients bring to LaFayette.

Davis, a local Realtor, also noted that a presence of the homeless in LaFayette will quickly erode home values, as they often camp out in open lots or empty buildings and sometimes cause fires — even arson — and vandalism to property where they have been.

So while a growing problem new to LaFayette was identified and discussed at the council meeting, no solution was reached. Mayor Arnold asked City Attorney Don Womack to examine the urban homeless policies of Ringgold, which tackled the same challenge last fall by passing a "urban camping" ordinance, and other towns. Womack is to report back to the council as soon as possible with legal recommendations that would curtail and control this new and rapidly escalating problem in LaFayette.

Maybe, it was admitted, some residents may be becoming overly paranoid, but the consensus of the council was that (to use a cliche) it is much better to solve the problem early and be safe than to be sorry later.

February is also American Heart Month

With Valentine's Day one of the most popular days of the year, many view February as the month of love, but it is also American Heart Month.

Heart disease is the leading killer of Americans, taking the lives of 2,200 people each day. In addition, 103 million adults have high blood pressure and 6.5 million are living with heart failure. While genetic factors do play a part in cardiovascular disease, the good news is 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be preventable with education and action. Simple lifestyle changes can make a big impact when it comes to heart health. Show your heart some love with these 10 tips.

1. Stop smoking

Quitting smoking is the best thing that can be done for the heart and for overall health. Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in the United States, and smokers have a higher risk of developing many chronic disorders, including atherosclerosis, or the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries. When combined with other heart disease risk factors, smoking increases the risks associated with those factors. Quitting is never easy, but there are lots of helpful resources for those looking to start.

2. Know your numbers

Maintaining a healthy weight, blood pressure and total cholesterol play a significant role in maintaining a healthy heart. While there are standard guidelines for blood pressure and cholesterol, ideal weight goals are individual to each person. A physician can help determine an appropriate goal weight based on additional factors such as age and height.

3. Screen for diabetes

Untreated diabetes can lead to heart disease, among many other complications. Diabetes can be easily detected through a simple blood test and managed a variety of ways under the care of a physician.

4. Get active

Heart pumping physical activity not only helps to prevent cardiovascular disease but can also improve overall mental and physical health. The American Heart Association recommends five 30 minute moderate exercise sessions each week. While this may seem daunting, it is important to note that these sessions can be broken up into two or three 10 or 15-minute segments throughout the day.

Walking, jogging, biking and swimming are all great forms of exercise. It is important to remember that something is always better than nothing. Opting to take the stairs and parking farther back in the parking lot are great ways to squeeze in activity when the time is short.

5. Build some muscle

Strength training compliments cardiovascular exercise by toning muscles and burning fat. In addition, proper strength training can improve daily functional movements, decreasing the chance of injury. The American Heart Association recommends getting in two days of moderate to highintensity strength training each week.

6. Eat smart

A healthy diet full of heartsmart foods is essential to a healthy heart and lifestyle. Salmon, nuts, berries, and oats are just a few of the heart "superfoods" that may help reduce the risk of atherosclerosis. Dark chocolate is also on the list and is a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth (in moderation).

7. Limit junk

To reap the full benefits of a heart-healthy diet, it's important to limit intake of nutrient-poor junk foods. Added sugars, saturated fat and excessive sodium can all negatively impact heart health, as well as over all physical health. These foods, when eaten in excess, can cause weight gain, raise blood pressure and clog arteries, which are all risk factors for heart disease.

8. Stress less

Stress increases cortisol, which leads to weight gain, a key risk factor for heart disease. In addition, stress can lead to other unhealthy habits, making it harder to stick to a heart-healthy program. Stress can also decrease overall happiness and increase the risk for anxiety and depression. Many of the items on this list can also help with reducing stress, in addition to practicing positive self-talk and incorporating mindfulness meditation breaks throughout the day.

9. Sleep more

Sleeping restores the body, helps decrease stress and increases overall happiness. To reap the full benefits, clocking seven hours each night is key. A calming bedtime routine and going to bed and waking at the same time each day are all great ways to establish healthy sleep patterns. Getting ample sunshine and physical activity throughout the day also aid in improving sleep quality.

10. Smile

A happy heart is a healthy heart. Making time for enjoyable activities and hobbies helps relieve stress and improves the overall mood, providing a great foundation for a hearthealthy lifestyle.

GNTC offers free GED practice test Feb. 28

Georgia Northwestern Technical College (GNTC) is offering a free GED practice test on Thursday, Feb. 28, to all current or potential students who come into one of the local Adult Education Learning Centers in GNTC's nine-county service area.

Students who take the GED Ready® practice test will be able to see if they are ready to pass the GED® test in a chosen subject area and can choose from reading, math, social studies or science.

The results of the GED Ready® practice test will let individuals know if they are ready to pass the GED® test or what skills they may need to improve in order to pass the test.

Students can also learn about classes and other resources to help them prepare for the GED® test. To learn more or to schedule a free GED Ready® practice test, contact any of GNTC's Adult Education Learning Centers in the northwest Georgia region:

Catoosa County: The Shirley Smith Learning Center, 36 Muscogee Trail, Benton Place, Ringgold, Ga. 30736, (706) 965-6155, ext. 7

Chattooga County: Chattooga Adult Learning Center, 152 Senior Drive, Summerville, Ga. 30747, (706) 857-0771

Murray County: Murray Adult Learning Center, Chatsworth-Murray County Library, 100 N. 3rd. Avenue Chatsworth, Ga. 30705, (706) 272-2909

Walker County: Walker County Campus Adult Education, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, 265 Bicentennial Trail, P.O. Box 569, Rock Spring, Ga. 30739; (706) 764-3679

Whitfield County: Whitfield County Adult Education, Georgia Northwestern Technical College, 2310 Maddox Chapel Road, Dalton, Ga. 30721, (706) 272-2909