Interoperable Text Messaging Alerts DC-Area Responders

Local jurisdictions of the National Capital Region (NCR) have successfully deployed an interoperable communications network for text-based emergency alert and notification.

The Washington, DC region is the first major metropolitan region in the country to adopt and implement a common, interoperable platform for text-based emergency alerting. All local governments in the Washington metro region can use Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN) to alert tens of thousands of first responders, leadership teams and employees via e-mail and wireless devices. Each jurisdiction has their own redundant system that supports real-time, two-way information sharing and coordination of emergency response efforts among police, fire, emergency management, health, local officials, schools, and other specialty units including Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) and Medical Reserve Corps.

The NCR jurisdictions have adopted a common, interoperable platform for text-based alerting, said Ned Ingraham, Senior IT Manager for the DC Emergency Management Agency and Project Leader for the project. They can use their stand-alone RSAN system to alert their first responders and key personnel, and they can share information with neighboring jurisdictions without maintaining separate databases, contact information, or deploying additional devices and systems. The NCR text alert system marks another important step forward in our on-going homeland security preparedness initiatives in and around the Nations capital, said Ingraham.

Washington, DC, Arlington and Fairfax Counties have been using RSAN daily for over three years to deliver millions of emergency messages to text-enabled devices (cell phones, pagers, BlackBerry, Treo, satellite phones, satellite radios, e-mail). The additional systems were deployed, configured and integrated, and hundreds of officials were trained, over the past six months.

The hardware, software, consulting and services to deploy this network of RSAN systems were funded through The Department of Homeland Securitys UASI grant program.

The RSAN systems provide a valuable communication tool to all in the national capital region. During severe weather emergencies like hurricane Katrina, recent airplane incidents, suspicious packages, extreme heat warnings and the London bombings, RSAN keeps government officials and their emergency personnel up-to-date with the latest information, said David Drescher, CEO of Roam Secure, Inc. Whether you are in a meeting, walking the beat, riding the metro to work, or responding to routine or critical all hazards incidents, mobile alerting plays a critical role in modern communication. RSAN offers an easy to deploy, cost effective solution for local governments to establish a comprehensive text-alerting program.

Jurisdictions can communicate both internally and with one another leveraging equipment already in the hands of their employees, including cell phones, satellite phones, pagers, BlackBerrys, PDAs, e-mail and more. Emergency alerts are delivered in seconds to groups of any size, spanning departments, buildings, jurisdictions and the entire National Capital Region.

DC-area leaders chose text alerting as a means to communicate critical information throughout the NCR based upon its proven, wide-spread reliability in severe weather, potential terror, and other emergency situations in the region. During hurricane Katrina RSAN was used locally to prepare agencies for the arrival of evacuees from New Orleans, as well as to coordinate resources involved in Katrina relief efforts. Several of Roam Secures Urban Search and Rescue customers also used RSAN for their deployments to the region. During severe weather and other disaster events like Katrina, RSAN can be used for evacuation notification, coordination across agencies and third parties and public communication to inform the public where to seek shelter or resources.

During the London bombing incidents, the Wall Street Journal and Reuters News highlighted how voice networks experienced higher call volume than usual, making it extremely difficult for voice communication to get through. However, both articles reported text messaging SMS still provided a reliable means of communication during the incidents. Again during Katrina, while voice channels were down and those that remained operable were saturated--text-based communication was reliable, and continues to be as many voice channels are still experiencing outages. The Washington, DC region leads other major metropolitan areas in this technology. Recent voice network failures in London were reminiscent of our experiences during 9/11 along the East Coast when voice channels were saturated, we encourage other regions to implement similar programs, said Ingraham.

The National Capital Region (NCR) includes major counties and cities in two states (Virginia and Maryland) including Loudoun County, Va; Montgomery County, Md; Prince William County, Va; Alexandria,Va; Arlington,Va and Fairfax County,Va in addition to the District of Columbia. The NCR collaborates on homeland security initiatives to facilitate enhanced communication, resource sharing and overall security for the nations capital and surrounding region. Over 4.5 million people reside and work in the NCR.

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