Thursday, April 10, 2008

Emergency Alert Systems

I ran into an interesting blog yesterday by WDavidStephenson. It describes potential changes to the cell phone system that would make targeted emergency alert messages possible. The system addresses a problem that more communities are facing; how to get targeted emergency response information to the effected areas of their community without worrying people that are not affected.

A recent review of the emergency response to the Barton Solvents fire in Polk County, IA last year indicated that their reverse 911 system was "not as robust as is needed for urgent messaging" according to a recent Des Moines Register article. These systems typically deliver a voice message to phones in a designated area. They do not reach cell phone users or people on the street and the voice message may cause confusion.

The proposed system described in a recent USA Today article would rely on new technology being introduced into the cell phone market. It would allow a government broadcast of a text message to all cell phones and cell-phone-linked devices within a specific geographic area. The single, mass broadcast would not tie up the cell phone system after the brief broadcast.

As more and more people carry cell phones, this proposed emergency response communication system has the potential to get important information into the most peoples hands in a timely manner. As David Stephenson points out in his blog; "those downwind from a chemical spill could get evacuation notices, while those in the other direction could get a different message to shelter-in-place".

A good emergency response plan includes provisions for getting the appropriate emergency personnel to the site as quickly as possible. Just as importantly it notifies the innocent bystanders of the dangers and instructs them in the appropriate response. This proposed emergency response system takes care of that notification.

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