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DSC Tech Library

Emergency Alert Systems

Emergency Notification Systems This section of our technical library presents information and documentation relating to Emergency Broadcasting Systems and Disaster Recovery Applications. Should an emergency arise in your community, our 911 broadcast service can deliver large volumes of calls quickly using thousands of phone lines simultaneously. In the event of a blizzard, wild fire or devastating flood, your community can be notified quickly given specific instructions if an evacuation is required using our emergency broadcasting service. If a dangerous chemical spill occurs in your community, you can target specific areas to call. If a severe snow storm hits your area, your community can be notified of school closings or event cancellations.

The following article relates to emergency broadcasting and how it is used in various communities today. This information was obtained from the internet with attribution to the author and/or community.

Jefferson County Spreads the Word: Fast, Effective Emergency Alerts

May 2003

Jefferson County, Colo., encompasses 774 square miles of grassland, foothills and mountains west of Denver. With more than 527,000 residents, the county faces the same public safety issues that challenge any population center - crime, residential and commercial fires, and industrial accidents. Because of its geography, Jefferson County also faces special challenges, including brush fires that plague the region during dry summers.


"I have pictures of my deputies driving through flames, trying to get to houses in remote areas," said Barb Farland, communications manager at the Jefferson County Sheriff's Department. During past emergencies like the Buffalo Creek and High Meadows fires of 2000, the county evacuated residents in harm's way by sending officers house to house. "These emergency personnel were putting themselves at risk," she said. "And the time they spent knocking on doors was time they might have spent on other work to protect residents."

Clearly, the telephone offered a better solution. "If we could call these people and notify them, it would be a lot easier, a lot safer and a benefit all the way around," Farland said.

Some communities have purchased telephone databases and implemented automated calling systems to alert the public. But this approach, only partially meets the challenges. White Pages databases do not include unpublished or unlisted numbers, so when disaster strikes, these automated notifications miss many residents. Older outbound calling systems also are slow. To run these systems, government agencies must buy new equipment, install it in their offices and have trained personal available.

"Talking to agencies that have these other systems, we heard that the maintenance was too much to take on," Farland said.


In 2001, Jefferson County implemented an advanced emergency notification solution, the Qwest Emergency Preparedness Network (EPN). Using the county's EPN database, EPN can dial the telephone subscribers in the area, regardless of whether the number is available to the public. The system automatically delivers recorded alerts to those phones within a specified geography, placing as many 1,100 simultaneous calls in 30 seconds. As a hosted system, it does not require the agency to install new hardware.

Authorized operators at any municipal or county public safety agency can simply launch notifications via telephone or the Internet. The operator dials a toll-free number and speaks into the phone to record the emergency message, which is assigned an identification number. The operator then calls the EPN Emergency Call Response Center (ECRC),
provides the message number and defines the area to receive the alert. For example, the operator might identify an intersection as well as a radius around it.

The operator also can define the area on a digital map. "We have the program loaded on our computers," Farland explained. "You go into it and draw your polygon where you want it to go. You record your message the same way, put your message number in on-screen and then launch it into the area where you've drawn the polygon." An operator also can draw multiple polygons, perhaps telling people in one area to evacuate now and telling those in a second area to wait for further instructions.

EPN delivers the message to people who pick up their phones and to answering machines. If no one answers or the line is busy, the system retries, Farland said. Communities that implement EPN determine the number of retries and the time between attempts; Jefferson County's system waits 150 seconds.

"As calls go out, the operator can view a progress report on the EPN Web site, providing figures on calls made and messages delivered," said Jim Reid, group product manager for public safety solutions at Qwest. "Within 24 hours, they get a telephone-number-by-telephone-number report, showing what happened - when it was attempted, the duration and the result of the call."

Jefferson County implemented the system on July 2, 2001. Just two days later, a local country club suffered a chlorine spill. Though the Sheriff's Department operator had not yet been trained on the system, she was able to launch an alert with ease. She called the EPN ECRC for help, "and they walked her through the whole thing," Farland said.


Today, when an emergency occurs, Jefferson County's public safety officials alert people quickly, effectively and safely. "If you save one life, it's worth it," Farland said. "I don't want somebody walking through a chlorine cloud. I don't want somebody staying in their home until the fire's lapping at their back door, so we then have to send in a multitude of people to rescue them."

"The other benefit," she continued, "is that we don't have 4,000 people calling to tell us where the fire is - or asking if they're supposed to evacuate. They've already gotten that information. They aren't calling 911 and jamming
the lines."

Along with fires and chemical spills, Jefferson County has used EPN to notify people about a lost child (who was found, thanks to the alert), a homicide suspect in the area and bears that were wandering residential neighborhoods. Farland said the system has successfully delivered its warnings to 74 percent of targeted phone numbers.
Considering that not everyone is home to receive the messages, Farland considers this level of success "awesome."

The system also makes it easy to contact groups of emergency responders. For example, the Sheriff's Department uses EPN to store phone numbers for its incident management team. When an incident occurs, "we record a message and send it to that call list, and just those people will be notified," Farland said. "It's like a paging system, but it goes to their phones."

Most of the counties surrounding Jefferson also are covered by EPN, allowing safety officials to collaborate on alerts about emergencies that cross county lines. In fact, Farland said, "Colorado is 70 percent covered with this system. We'd like to see it at 100 percent, so there's no one in the state who can't be notified."