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by Rick Wimberly: Best practices for emergency notification programs

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Another Cell Broadcast Test...
October 21, 2010
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The Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) has announced that it has completed a test of cell broadcast alerts.  That means that emergency messages were delivered to mobile devices, without necessity of citizens signing up.  Cell broadcast is, as one emergency management professional who's been following this closely, puts it, "without a doubt the best technology move the US has attempted in the name of notification".

Cell broadcast comes through the Commercial Mobile Alert System (CMAS) effort operated by FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) program.  By 2012, most of the cell carriers in the US will make it possible for local public safety officials to send emergency text messages to mobile devices within shout of local cell towers.  Citizens won't have to sign up.  There's no charge for citizens, and none for local public safety.

For their test, FDEM teamed with three companies for delivering the messages to mobile devices in Pasco and Polk counties.  Blackboard Connect provided the "front end", the means for creating and activating the messages using the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP).  The test messages were then handed off to Cellcast Technologies, LLC and Alcatel-Lucent.  They provided the "middleware" which, in effect, controls and delivers the messages to the wireless network.  Then, the messages were broadcast on local cell towers and received on mobile devices equipped to recognize CMAS messages.  It may sound complicated, but it all happens quite quickly. 

Don't confuse CMAS with FM chips in mobile devices.  Although a new program, CMAS really exists; it's written into federal rules and regulations.  FM chips in mobile devices is the subject of a rather hot debate (umm, strike the "rather").  (More on the debate in our previous post here.)

Similar CMAS tests are being conducted in California.  (See our previous post here.)  We called the California tests the first in the nation.  Perhaps Florida was first.  Either way, we're glad to see the race is on, as 2012 is approaching faster than we might like.  (For more info on the Florida tests, get the press release from Pasco County's web site here.)

As we talk to public safety officials around the country, they often express lots of frustration trying to get citizens to sign up to receive emergency messages on their mobile devices.  Best efforts to solicit sign-ups often fall short. CMAS will eliminate that challenge...thankfully.

All the best,

Rick

 

 

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