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Volume 31, Issue 4

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In August of this year, Hurricane Charley’s 145 mph winds ripped through Florida, killing several people, forcing 1.5 million to evacuate and causing an estimated $14 billion in damages. Charley was only one of an anticipated 10 tropical storms that develop annually over the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico, according to the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). Since 1990 alone, these storms have taken thousands of lives and caused more than $50 billion in damages.

Not only are hurricanes highly destructive, they are also unpredictable – a cataclysmic combination that can wreak havoc on even the best laid of emergency response plans. Yet there are many ways to minimize disaster, and the most effective ones involve heightened communication with first responders and communities at risk. Specifically, many in the emergency management field are turning to emergency notification technology as a front-line ally in the battle against the deadly and capricious nature of all forms of severe weather.

Today’s most advanced systems allow emergency management offices, or OEMs, to automatically relay vital information or instruction in a matter of seconds to decision makers, other public safety organizations, local hospitals, shelters, first responders, and local residents. Emergency notification technology enables these OEMs to send pre-recorded or real-time voice and text messages to thousands of individuals with the click of a mouse. The system works like an instantaneous phone tree, notifying hundreds, or even thousands of people, with speed and precision.

In the case of Charley, state-of-the-art weather tracking systems could not completely predict the path of destruction, causing many residents to believe they were out of harm’s way. However, Florida-based public safety organizations already equipped with emergency notification technology, like Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, were not caught flat-footed.

Once activated, the technology rapidly mobilized fire-rescue staff, augmented communications with other emergency management operations county-wide, and provided special needs residents with information about assistance available through the county’s emergency management office. Alachua County’s high-tech system allowed the sheriff’s office to rapidly coordinate its response effort with the local OEM and fire-rescue team, ultimately saving precious seconds and potential lives.

Emergency notification technology was originally created to serve the critical communications needs of the nation’s nuclear power industry. Tragic events at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island in the late 1970s spurred emergency notification development. The software automated the telephone dialing process, enabling operations to recall emergency crews and managers more rapidly than ever before, thereby speeding up response times during events. Over the years, software developers have honed, improved, sharpened, and applied this technology to strengthen emergency communications capabilities for an ever-growing list of industries.

For those in the emergency management, the power and flexibility of emergency notification technology allows them to react quickly and respond appropriately to virtually any situation - critical or routine. If unanticipated action is required, an OEM director can record an event-specific message in real-time and immediately distribute the information to the desired audience.
Most emergency notification systems also give OEMs the option to contact key audiences, such as first responders and crisis action teams, through all communications media (e.g., phone, fax, pager or e-mail).

Ken White, Palm Beach County Emergency Management’s 911 specialist, relied on the technology – not precious manpower – to reach as many as 500,000 people during a recent severe weather situation. His emergency response team members were available to get out into the areas where they were most needed, rather than focusing on the communications aspect of the response effort.
Emergency notification technology can also be extremely beneficial when OEMs are making evacuation decisions. One of the main reasons OEMs use the technology during severe weather is because it can work in conjunction with Geographic Information System (GIS) or “desktop mapping” software to geographically alert residents based on where they live.

For example, OEMs can deliver messages by phone to people along a specific city street, an entire block of a downtown business district or a whole tri-county area. Emergency management officials can use the technology to contact a small number of first responders, or to alert the entire database of a state health department. By geographically targeting recipients, OEMs avoid incorrect evacuations and potential logistical nightmares, such as severe traffic congestion and hospital overflow.
Lee County Emergency Management in Florida, used GIS software, in conjunction with their emergency notification system, to geographically identify and automatically notify a number of neighborhoods that were recently threatened with flooding. In this situation, the technology worked flawlessly to evacuate specific areas, rather than alert people county-wide, which could have been more problematic and potentially caused more harm than good.


Most recently, emergency management operations experienced the wrath of Hurricane Charley. Now, and in the future, OEMs must prepare for new situations, some of them anticipated like inclement weather and others, once thought unimaginable in the U.S., like bio-terrorism and the use of weapons of mass destruction. Emergency notification technology is a proven – and viable – solution to meeting the critical communications needs related to these and countless other situations. Through its implementation, progressive emergency management agencies throughout Florida, as well as the rest of the country, are experiencing markedly improved reaction times and increased response effectiveness. Without it, and in light of new homeland security and public safety threats, response to potentially disastrous events simply might not be quick enough.

Lorin Bristow is the vice president of marketing for DCC (Dialogic Communications Corporation), the leading provider of critical communications technology. Having joined the company three years ago, he oversees all product development, client training, strategic marketing and business intelligence. Bristow holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Harding University and a master’s degree in marketing from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn. Bristow can be reached via e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..