Non-medical personnel required for every emergency are comprised of electronics and communications specialists along with logistics and equipment personnel. These non-medical staffers manage the ever-urgent team communications and equipment such as generators, water distribution systems, and environmental equipment. All of the NMRT/WMD Central members maintain other jobs within a 150-mile radius of a deployment center. When they are notified of an alert, they are immediately rostered as federal employees and become eligible for all the pertinent salaries, insurance and workmen’s compensation coverage.
When the Denver NMRT/WMD Central command staff receives an alert to respond to an emergency, it has to notify 110 standby personnel who must respond immediately, preferably within minutes. Not only is the team member required to reply back immediately to the command staff about the status of his or her availability, but he or she must also let unit staffers know how soon they can report in within the two hour mandatory response time. These kinds of mission-critical NMRT deployments are examples of the highest level of disaster response deployments that fall under the auspices of the Homeland Security Initiative, and require the utilization of a notification system that sustains and services these kinds of disaster recovery scenarios ultimately involving hundreds, if not thousands of people.
Previously, the Denver NMRT had limited communication options when notified of an emergency deployment. Their command staff had been relying on pagers and cell phones to get in touch with team members.
“Every team member had to be paged or sometimes called individually using inefficient and cumbersome call trees. Often times, the paging and disparate cell phone notifications never reached our team members, causing our response levels to drop to as low as 60 to 70 percent,” explains Dennis Dyer, NMRT/WMD Central’s communications officer.
Another problem had arisen with pagers because pagers are mostly a one-way communication vehicle. According to Dyer, “Using pagers, we often felt like we were just ‘yelling into the distance,’ getting no immediate or direct feedback from team members.”
As a result of their communication deficiency, the team began looking for new notification solutions that would speed up response times. He also needed a communication system that would provide the team with real-time reports of team members’ en-route status that allowed for mobile access from anywhere. His search began by considering two-way pagers and computer-based call systems. Those systems were quickly eliminated because of their severe device limitation capability. Also, NMRT Central did not want to get involved in managing IT infrastructure and spending valuable team member time and resources to maintain and support a computer-based calling system.
Since its members have other jobs and varying lifestyles, NMRT staffers have their own communication devices ranging from home and office landlines, cell phones with their respective and unique service coverage, PDAs, pagers, e-mail systems, and even fax machines. Moreover, each team member has his or her own preferred contact methodology often involving more than one of those devices. To function effectively, the NMRT needed a system that could enhance speed of communications and continuity by viably encompassing every possible communication device and platform needed to reach its team members anywhere.
The technology became of immediate interest also because the NMRT did not have to invest in additional IT hardware to install or implement the technology. While testing the system, Dyer noted an automated notification was sent out and the team members were alerted on all their communication devices including landlines, cell phones, pagers, and e-mail systems simultaneously or consecutively, depending on how the respondent had set up his or her profile in the system.
An important feature considered by the NRMT for its new disaster recovery communication system was the device escalation advantage. “Using device escalation, we can set up the notification to reach a team member even if he or she is out of the area or in an unusual location,” said Dyer.
When a team member receives an emergency notification, they are prompted to answer a few simple questions. “Are you the team member? If so, press one.” Once one is pressed, the respondent has the choice of, “I will be at the location in 30 minutes,” “I will be at the location in 60 minutes,” “I will be at the location in 2 hours,” and so on. This direct, immediate feedback and its instant report logging capability enables the team leader to know very quickly exactly how many team members are in route, and when they will respond.
“One important outcome of this direct feedback is that we know which positions have been filled by team members,” said Dyer. “For example, we need a certain number of physicians, nurses, paramedics, and even logistics personnel to complete a team roster. With our new system, I get to see their responses instantly, in real-time which makes the task of filling the roster for 50 people a matter of minutes instead of hours.”
Another aspect of this emergency notification system that is extremely beneficial to maintaining a high level of response among the NMRT team members is the system’s device override feature. Using this feature, the command staff overrides any “do not disturb” or “call blocking” on their individual devices, making their emergency contact much faster and easier.
“The new communication system has been working flawlessly in our environment,” said Dyer. “When the nation went to the elevated Orange Terror Alert status in December of 2003, NMRT Central sent out an immediate notification to their 110 team member roster. Within six minutes we received more than 60 responses back from our team members.”
With the newly expanded reporting structure of the Homeland Security initiative and its crucial role in protecting our nation from terrorism, the tools needed for maintaining continuity of communications between teams such as the NMRTs, its members, and other Homeland Security departments are becoming increasingly important. New disaster recovery communication technologies are being developed by the private sector and are rapidly becoming the de facto standard for maintaining higher performance levels of communications in any disaster-related occurrence, whether national, regional, public sector, or even within private industry.
“The speed and efficiency of our new intelligent notification system far exceeds the labor intensive and unreliable call trees we had previously been struggling with,” said Dr. Charles Goldstein, unit commander of NMRT Central. “New technology communication systems will ultimately bring down the cost and increase disaster recovery response speed, efficiency, and effectiveness.”
Amir Moussavian is the president and CEO at MIR3. MIR3, headquartered in San Diego, Calif., provides intelligent notification solutions for business continuity, emergency notification, and automated outbound call center applications. For more information, visit www.mir3.com, e-mail email@example.com, or call (858) 724-1200.