Article in a GIS magazine. No mention
of standards. Hmm.
Emergency Alerts - Quickly Reaching Everyone in
Tests show system effectiveness... or lack
COLUMBUS, Ohio, May
14 /PRNewswire/ -- Recent tests show a disturbing problem with many emergency
warning systems used by public agencies and universities. That is, they've been
known to glitch in emergencies, precisely when they're most needed to save
lives, injuries and properties.
A few minutes of advance notice can mean a world of difference and change
outcomes when fires are raging, when there is a shooter on campus, when
earthquakes or hurricanes are imminent, when a child is kidnapped, or when
In the wake of recent shootings at Northern Illinois University (NIU)
and Virginia Tech last April, colleges have sped up efforts to bring these
mass notification systems on board. Tests are underway to determine their
ability to quickly send messages.
Test Success. Some are proving highly reliable and effective. In mid-April, a
test for OSU's Buckeye Alert, a Twenty First Century Communications system, set
a new national standard by sending 22,000 plus phone notifications and 96,000
emails to students in less than 15 minutes with nearly 100 percent success. "The
test was extremely successful and timely," said Bob Armstrong, Director of
Emergency Management at OSU's Office of Public Safety. "Our benchmark has been
about 30 minutes based on other universities."
Some are proving less efficient. Compare this to Texas Tech, whose best
test was reported as 90%, or to Boston Tech, which reportedly garnered only a
50% success rate with systems operated by other vendors. In Canada's Essex
County, problems are so rife with its Reverse 911 system that only 10% of
residents are often notified, says Lakeshore Mayor Tom Bain.
Reaching 100% success is never possible in these tests, because databases
used for notifications invariably contain errors, residents may not be home, and
while colleges ask students and faculty to 'opt-in', many do not.
Legislation Expected. These challenges will need to be resolved, if
legislation before the House passes. A bill proposed as part of the Higher
Education Act renewal would require colleges to implement their emergency
notification systems within a 30-minute time frame.
Trial by Fire in SoCal. In San Diego, SDSU and Mira Costa in North County
signed on in the first quarter of 2008 to use the County's AlertSanDiego system
run by Twenty First Century Communications -- virtually the same system used by
OSU -- alongside its Reverse-911 system. More good news is that AlertSanDiego
costs the universities nothing, unless they decide to activate it to reach
students in an emergency situation.
AlertSanDiego was proven in a trial by fire when, on October 22, 2007, it was
activated just three days after County staff had received training. At the peak
of Southern California's 2007 fire season, 22 fires were burning simultaneously
in seven counties, covering more than 370,000 acres.
AlertSanDiego performed seven different geo-targeted alerting campaigns for
San Diego County, facilitating the most extensive emergency alert in the county
to date. 515,000 residents were evacuated and 20,000 were sheltered. "I don't
know how we could have possibly evacuated 515,000 people safely without it. Not
one citizen, despite these six very dangerous wildfires, was caught in a fire
during the evacuation," stated Ron Lane, San Diego County's Director of the
Office of Emergency Services.
During the rains that followed, Twenty First Century uploaded custom online
maps developed by San Diego County GIS teams showing the fire perimeter, and
alerted 90,000 people vulnerable to flood, mudslides and debris flow.
Since then, all 18 cities in San Diego have signed on to use
Train Derailment. In Riverside County, an early morning train derailment in a
populated area near Mecca this March put its alert system to the test,
evacuating about 65 people. This system, like its San Diego counterpart, worked
well during the train derailments, said Riverside County Fire Department Capt.
Fernando Herrera. No one was injured.
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