The Station Fire ripped through communities along the northern rim of Los Angeles in August and September, consuming an area more than 160,000 acres. Evacuations came with little or no warning, homes and buildings lost, and the entire ordeal put a tremendous strain on utilities and resources. Including water.
When the city of Glendale needed to quickly alert residents to lower their water and power use to enable fire fighters to gain access to critical resources, they turned to a local company, Everbridge, to reach citizens with real-time notifications alerting them to the emergency.
On Thursday night Marc Ladin, VP of Global Marketing at Everbridge, walked CTC members though an introduction to emergency and incident communications management.
The Need for Emergency Management
Communications technology has made incredible leaps in utility, applications, ands capacity over the past few years. We can reach nearly any point or person in the world through telephone, mobile phones, Internet email, Twitter, Blackberry messaging, radio, television – the list is becoming endless.
Regardless of the technologies, natural and man-made disasters and problems remain a part of our lives, and will always be part of our lives. Our businesses, governments, and even survival, depends on how we prepare for disaster, and are able to respond to events that touch our lives. Good events and bad.
Marc Ladin makes a living solving the problem of communicating during emergencies and events. The residents of Glendale, like most communities in the United States, offers residents the option of registering their preferred communications devices with the city.
This gives the city an immediate channel to reach and inform residents in the event of disasters and other incidents of interest or impact to the city and residents.
In the case of the Station Fire, Glendale was able to immediately reach enough residents, and the city was able to lower residential utility draw to the level fire fighters had adequate water resources to protect the community.
The same model applies across the spectrum of emergency notification.
The Enterprise Business Continuity Plan
Nobody wants to think of a disaster that will hurt people, or isolate them from their family or organizations. However, it is also clear that any organization needs to have a business continuity plan in place, and a disaster response plan in place to allow the organization to quickly respond to, and manage, any event that will potentially damage the organization’s ability to function.
Consider this scenario. A large multi-national chemical products company. Highly visible in the world business community, and customers located around the world.
The worst case scenario happens. At the HQ site an explosion occurs in the manufacturing plant, killing several person in senior leadership roles, and requiring a massive response by emergency services and evacuation in the surrounding community.
Who do we need to notify to respond to the emergency, and who needs to know about the problem?
- First responders – fire fighters, HAZMAT teams, ambulances, local hospitals, police
- Local Community – residents, media (radio and television)
- Company leadership – management, public affairs, operations
- National and global media
How do you get the message – the real message – out to those people?
How do we determine if somebody is trapped in the disaster area, and needs help?
The process is getting easier. Every person, machine, and device connected to the Internet or other global communications service can be part of the event notification process.
Registering Your Communications Device for Notification
A company such as Everbridge offers as utility for managing emergency and event notifications. The utility (Everbridge) operates as a SaaS (Software as a Service) application, physically separated from the users. The SaaS application resides on several geographically diverse data centers, with multiple communication providers providing the conduit for global device notification access.
An organization will compile a table of their users and devices, with an individual having the ability to register all their available communications devices (mobile phones, email, Twitter accounts, etc), including a preference on notification priority (i.e., mobile phone message first, email second, home phone third…).
The organization then has the ability to sort members into different categories of notification. An example of how an organization might be sorted is:
- C-level management notifications
- Persons notified during emergencies
- Geography (everybody in the Long Beach office, everybody in the Atlanta office, everybody in Japan, etc)
- Function (operations, engineering, marketing and sales)
- Local area first responders
- And any other desired sort
Of course a single entry is easily tagged for multiple notification categories.
How to Make a Notification
In a traditional environment company leadership wants to make a notification. They may have their secretary make phone calls, might call an operations center and open a notification checklist, or other time-tested process.
The modern notification system can use a wider variety of methods for generating a notification:
- A human being opens a web page and types in a notification message for distribution
- A human being prepares an email or SMS message, and sends it to an address that spawns the desired notification tree
A machine experiences a condition that requires a human response
- Fire alarm
- Equipment failure
- Security break-in or event
Once the message is triggered, and the notifications made, then you need to make a decision on whether or not the notified persons need to acknowledge or respond to the notification. Modern systems also manage and automate the acknowledgement process by logging replies to the notification message, allowing the alert initiator to determine if everybody has received the message.
This is important if you are managing a disaster, and need to determine if somebody could potentially be hurt or in danger, or if you need to escalate a decision situation to the next person in a business continuity plan.
With GPS capability, it is now even possible to determine the exact location of a desired device, further helping locate persons in a disaster. Consider a heart patient with an active monitoring device – that device can be registered in a hospital, first-responder, family, and neighbor notification matrix. This will increase the probability that person will survive in the event of health problems.
Other Creative Ways to Use a Notification System
Of course the same system that handles emergencies can also handle positive messages. The marketing group can use the same notification system for press releases, management can deliver positive company results to employees – basically once the person and device/s are registered in a data base, the entry can be used for whatever desired.
Marc Ladin presented a great vision. His company is putting the vision into reality, and has a lot of exciting features available today, and in the mill for tomorrow.
John Savageau, Long Beach
Citizen journalism (also known as “public”, “participatory”, “democratic” or “street journalism”) is the concept of members of the public “playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analyzing and disseminating news and information.” Wikipedia
On Wednesday, CNN frequently showed amateur videos, with a graphic that labeled them “unverified material.” It showed a YouTube video of the aftermath of an apparent raid at Tehran University. The video showed rooms that appeared to have been burned extensively. New York Times
Citizen Journalism took on a very clear role this week as the Iranian government continued to deport journalists admitted with temporary visas (to cover the Iranian elections). As western journalists were told reporting on the demonstrations and protests against perceived election fraud was illegal (“We warn those who propagate riots and spread rumors that our legal action against them will cost them dearly,” a statement from the military force said), the burden of reporting fell on the shoulders of Iranian citizens participating in the demonstrations.
Most of the reporting comes in the form of videos uploaded to YouTube, email, and updates to social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. The reporting is generally a recording of events, which is then commented upon by western news media.
During the 1993 Russian Constitutional Crisis citizen journalists used email and Usenet newsgroups to transmit near real-time updates on activities as the Army moved to occupy the White House, and many Russian citizens were killed or injured. This supplemented the very limited news media, which was not officially allowed near the events. Perhaps one of the first examples of the “Internet Age of Journalism.”
Even in the United States, visual accounts of events involving police brutality become instantly available to the rest of the world. This was clearly demonstrated when Oscar Grant was shot on a Bay Area Rapid Transit train platform News Years night. Dozens of citizens recorded the incident on their mobile phones, uploading the images to YouTube and social networking sites directly from the platform within seconds of the event.
Now as mobile phone and computerized video files continue to flow from Iran to the rest of the world, keeping people up to date with events in Iran, we can reflect on changes taking place in the Internet age of information. CNN reporters, who have been with us providing news since the 1980s, are now barred from providing real time views of Tehran. They are taking “iReports” provided by Iranian citizens, and providing commentary on videos that cannot be independently verified. We need to assume that video being used is an accurate record of events – perhaps a big assumption in a world also well known for use of media deception and propaganda.
However one message is very clear. Regardless of the validity of visual and citizen provided accounts of events, it will be very difficult for governments to contain or suppress news in the future. The Internet has provided a means to instantly globalize information and news. Governments will forever be held accountable for their actions in the court of world opinion.
John Savageau, Long Beach
SocalTech.Com reported on Friday (22 May) that Bill Snitzer has created a new Twitter robot pushing real-time earthquake information to subscribers. @earthquakesLA is a good utility, providing both text and graphic information using data supplied by the US Geological Survey (USGS), including expanded location information.
Twitter is rapidly gaining interest as not only a social networking tool, but also a utility used for emergency notifications. Recent fires in the Santa Barbara area (Jesusita fires, May 2009) moved so quickly that normal city emergency notifications could not meet the needs of residents and students in the affected areas. Students took the lead in quickly establishing a notification system through Twitter, giving Twitter users the information they needed to both evacuate and avoid getting caught in the path of a killer wildfire. While it is hard to quantify actual results of “TwitterNet” on personal safety in the Jesusito fires, it is safe to assume immediate information at a minimum served the purpose of alerting many people they were in harm’s way, and to get to a safe location or rallying point.
There are other notification systems available. The USGS has a direct SMS system alerting subscribers of earthquake information (https://sslearthquake.usgs.gov/ens/). You can subscribe, and even set additional parameters such as specific geographic locations and magnitude thresholds. If you have a PDA phone or handset which handles web pages, the USGS SMS notification will also link you to a very detailed chart showing all known automated and reviewed data related to a quake.
The US National Weather Service weather warnings and alerts are also available via Twitter (@laxweather for Los Angeles) and SMS. This is a very good thing to have if you are planning to drive through the Grapevine or Cajon Pass while leaving the Los Angeles area, and need to know if you are going to get stuck, require chains, or find an alternate route on your way to Las Vegas or Northern California.
Reverse 911 calling is available in San Diego and Santa Barbara, allowing emergency services to make immediate notifications to all “land lines” and registered cell/VoIP phones when an evacuation or other disaster presents an imminent danger. As many are now shunning land lines in favor of wireless or mobile phones, it is important for us to ensure we are registered in locations we live or spend a considerable amount of time. You can register your phone by logging on to your local emergency services website, such as Ready San Diego (http://www.sdcounty.ca.gov/oes/ready/signup.html ). Ready San Diego is also Twitter-ready.
Social networking and telecom utilities are entering their next phase of development. No longer the realm of students and the Millenials, social networks such as LinkedIN, Facebook, and Twitter are maturing into very useful utilities. A further indication Internet-enabled applications are here to stay. The challenge for us baby boomers and Gen X-ers is to better understand new social networking utilities, accept the change technology and social networks bring in a global society, and make them work for us.
John Savageau, Long Beach, California