Selectmen from three towns say they will push for changes to the Vineyard’s reverse 911 phone system, following complaints about its use by Oak Bluffs last week to publicize arrangements for the town’s Friday fireworks display.

Almost 14,000 people were contacted in four rounds of phone calls on Thursday, as part of an information campaign initiated by Oak Bluffs police chief Erik Blake and approved by the chairman of the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, Kathleen Burton, and Dukes County Sheriff Michael McCormack.

The campaign went ahead without the knowledge of selectmen in other towns and, in the case of Chilmark, against the expressed wishes of selectmen.

Now selectmen in Tisbury, West Tisbury and Chilmark, plan to insist that no reverse 911 messages go out without their consent.

It is the second dispute over the use of the two-year old code red system, in only two uses of it.

Last year, many Islanders were angered at a decision to impose a curfew on travel and retailers ahead of the expected arrival of Hurricane Earl. The hurricane proved to be something of a non-event, leading to complaints that people had been inconvenienced and stores had lost trade, for nothing.

Following that controversy, Chilmark selectmen passed a resolution that future code red messages must be cleared by them before they were disseminated in the town.

But yesterday, Chilmark executive secretary Timothy Carroll said the town had again been blindsided.

He said the Oak Bluffs emergency management director, Peter Martell, had called him the day before the message was to go out.

“I told him about our rule, and he said he would provide me with the message first thing in the morning, and I told him that until the message was in the hands of the board of selectmen, it could not be sent out.

“The selectmen and I were here from 8 a.m. Thursday. The message was faxed to us somewhere around 10.”

But before they could deliberate on the contents, it was being sent, Mr. Carroll said.

The selectmen will meet next on Sept. 6, he said, and will discuss the latest incident then. But two members of the board had already sent e-mail and/or phone messages to Oak Bluffs, “incensed that it had happened,” Mr. Carroll said.

Their complaints were forwarded to the other emergency management directors around the Island.

West Tisbury selectman Richard Knabel said the first he knew about the use of the reverse 911 system by Oak Bluffs was when his phone rang with the recorded message.

“I think it was a completely inappropriate use of the system and I said so, to Chief Blake and to the Sheriff,” he said.

“I wasn’t the only one. There were e-mails flying all around.”

Mr. Knabel said he had received numerous complaints from townspeople.

“After the fiasco we had last year over [Hurricane] Earl, this is not good,” he said, and predicted the matter would be raised by selectmen and emergency service directors during meetings this week, called to discuss the latest hurricane threat, Irene.

And in Tisbury, selectmen on Tuesday night also judged Oak Bluffs use of the service to be inappropriate.

Selectman Jeff Kristal, who is the town’s acting emergency management director, said the board agreed the system had to change.

“We should ensure the inter-municipal agreement states that Tisbury selectmen need to sign off on any future code reds going to people in the town before they happen,” he said.

But Oak Bluffs police Chief Blake defended his decision last week to use the reverse 911 phone system to publicize arrangements for the fireworks.

“I made the request as a proactive measure to inform people about arrangements for the fireworks. I felt this was the most effective way to put it out there, and I think it worked well,” he said.

Chief Blake acknowledged there had been complaints, but said he also had been contacted by numerous members of the public who were grateful.

Most importantly, it had greatly eased the burden on town workers, who were underresourced.

“Our problem is 12,000 to 15,000 people come into town for the fireworks, and starting about Thursday midday, through to the actual event, our phones are constantly ringing off the hook. They do not stop. It’s the same for the fire department and even the communications center,” he said.

“People want to know the things that were in the message: Where is the handicapped parking; when is the road to be closed; where do I pick up the bus; what’s the latest I can get through Ocean Park; when do the fireworks go off; where is the best place to view them, and so on.

“The staff spend all day answering phone calls.”

In previous years, the calls had numbered in the hundreds.

“This year we answered about four calls about the fireworks. And there were no major issues with safety or traffic,” the chief said.

He denied that the Thursday calls had amounted to misuse of an emergency network.

“The Code Red system has two components. One is emergencies; the other is non-emergency community announcements. The Island has 20,000 minutes that we can use for notifying people that a road will be closed for a parade, for example.”

Furthermore, the private operators of the system had not counted the calls against that 20,000 minutes.

“The Code Red people actually looked at our message and decided it was public safety related and therefore they didn’t charge us for it,” Chief Blake said.

“I’ve been e-mailing back and forth with town administrators. They had some concerns about it. And if they think the process is flawed on how the messages get approved and get out, that’s an issue to discuss. But it was absolutely a successful thing for us to do.”

Peter Martell, who oversaw the actual distribution of the message, thought the exercise proved the system’s value.

“We have 18,500 people signed up, and we reached almost 14,000 of them, or 82 per cent. Which is superb,” he said.

“We got a few complaints, which is to be expected. You can’t please everyone.”

Mr. Martell explained the way it had worked.

There were four rounds of calls, at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Each round of calls was smaller than the one before, because it went only to those numbers which had not previously answered.

In all, the town used about 24,000 minutes of phone time.

“The system allows us 20,000 minutes of free non-emergency time. The whole Island pays $12,520 for the emergency service, which is cheap,” he said.

Mr. Martell took credit for making it all happen.

“I convinced them to run the code red thing for the fireworks under the emergency provisions because of the possibility of VIP visitors,” he said, referring to president Obama and his family.

“There was a chance the whole family would come. We wanted to make sure people weren’t parking where they shouldn’t, because they’ve got to move the caravan out of town in a hurry if it’s necessary.

“So it didn’t cost anybody, because under the circumstances . . . Code Red wrote it off. None of the minutes the towns have for nonemergency use are gone.”

He also pointed out that the towns have a binding contract for the Code Red system.

“They can’t change the contract; it’s a three-year contract and has another year to go,” Mr. Martell said.

“I think they are getting a little too controlling,” he added.

At a meeting of all the Island’s emergency response directors yesterday to plan for Hurricane Irene, the Oak Bluffs message also became an issue.

Peter Shemeth of Edgartown joined the criticism and suggested all future messages be circulated to all towns first.

Mr. Martell suggested that in dealing with a coming storm, a generic message be prepared, which each town could modify and send out to its own residents.