Later this year, the first-ever national test of the emergency alert system (EAS) will be held. Currently, only local measures have been used to alert citizens for emergencies. In March, the western coast of the United States and Hawaii had to alert residents of a possible tsunami hitting their coasts after the Japanese earthquake.
“Having seen the devastation in Japan and knowing the tsunami had reached Hawaii only hours before, we knew the potential danger existed,” said Azar Sebers, technology systems specialist for Marin County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office of Emergency Services. Marin County used the Communicator NXT and GeoCast Web notification solutions from Cassidian Communications to alert residents of the impending tsunami. “We’ve been using the notification solutions for five years now, and our residents expect to be notified of any potential natural disaster,” Sebers said.
The Mendocino County (Calif.) Sheriff’s Office also used the GeoCast Web solution to alert residents of the tsunami.
The Communicator Web-based application provides staff and group notifications leveraging a variety of communications methods, including email, short message service (SMS), phone, fax, Twitter and Facebook. “Because it is browser-based, the software can be accessed using a Web browser via the Internet,” said Mike Adams, director of product management, notification solutions and services for Cassidian Communications.
The GeoCast Web enables Marin County public-safety officials to select a geographic area that needs to be alerted and then select all the contacts for that area. County officials then specify a message to send and which methods to execute the alert — phone, email and/or SMS.
The REVERSE 911 system with a similar map-based functionality to GeoCast Web but including a hazardous materials module was employed by the San Luis Obispo (Calif.) County Sheriff’s Office and was used six times in response to the tsunami. “The tsunami prompted our first deployment of the REVERSE 911 systems for evacuation purposes,” said Rob Bryn, public information officer (PIO) for the sheriff’s office. “People inside six different geographic areas along the coast automatically received orders, as well as the all-clear message when it was safe to return. All activations were considered highly successful and received considerable praise from residents.”
“When natural disasters occur or threat of them is imminent, communications becomes critical,” Adams said. “Organizations such as emergency operations centers (OECs), incident response teams, and search and rescue, all need to be told which plans to follow, where to report and other operational details to position them to act efficiently and effectively for the communities they serve. For citizens, communities need methods beyond the EAS to make people aware of specific dangers, road closings, evacuation orders or other specific information.”
“No one company will be able to directly provide all the technology needed to supply a holistic solution that includes sirens, digital signage, incident information reporting, building and campus security and alarming, and inbound information solutions,” Adams said. “This means that the ability to integrate different technology components into a single solution for a customer becomes increasingly important — allowing them to maximize investments they have already made and give them freedom of choice for additional alerting components.”