Best Tools for Emergency Communications?

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This topic contains 21 replies, has 11 voices, and was last updated by  Andy Tolley 12 years, 4 months ago.

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  • #69730

    Emi Whittle

    Hi! I am seeking any and all suggestions for potential uses of internet or other tools for Emergency/Evacuation/Post-Evacuation communications.

    For example, I thought Twitter would be good because anyone with Internet or SMS on a text phone can read and post. Our group could announce our whereabouts, respond to needs, etc.

    I also thought a Ning might be appropriate – a tailor-made site for our group to post evacuation info (we live and work in hurricane territory); communicate needs, communicate offerings, etc… but didnt’ know if the free Ning included any SMS apps…

    During the aftermath of hurricane IKE, lots of people’s cell service was not working in that the could not use the internet or call, but they could get tiny text messages through… land phone lines continued to work for some…

    Any other suggestions???

  • #69772

    Andy Tolley

    We’ve started using Twitter with this in mind. That is until we see a large group of users using other tools with better features 🙂

  • #69770

    Emi Whittle

    Thanks! I’d be interested in hearing how it goes/what other tools you find!

  • #69768

    Allen Sheaprd

    Twitter was used during the Fargo floods with its own hashtag. For small emergencies or ones that only take up a city or state this will work well. For national emergencies a single hashtag may be overloaded – think 9/11 or pandemic. Also a nationa blackout caused by sun spots or grid failure may bring down twitter or peoples access.

    Red Cross has a web site to register that you are safe.

    Hand held personal radios are nice for families but since they each use different channels it may be hard to reach a neighbor – for get a state trooper.

    CBs are not as good as they used to be. Most states no longer monitor channel #9 like they used to. Post event they may be useful.

    HAM radios are great and they have been life savers.

    INMARSAT and other SATCOM units work but are expen$ive. I do not think they are ready for a mass event where hundreds or thousands of folks would use them for extended periods of time.

    FAX machines. Yes fax. Send a fax to four people each who make sure the other 3 got it via phone and then fax the info on to four other people in a tree network. Good for getting out info.

    eMail lists. Some even send out quarterly emails as tests. This is great when web sited die or things happen. Not everyone is on twitter.

    Low power FM. These are small stations with 5 mile radius for serving a samll area.

    Its not much but it is a start. Stop by the pandemic group or even fluwiki if you like.

  • #69766

    Allen Sheaprd


    HI. Thank you. The mass dialing machines are very good, not difficult and require little maintenace other than phone number update. Some machines even have a GIS option so people’s phone numbers assigned to an area. This helps avoid nuiscence calls.

    The one iPhone or Google app I would like to see is for the phone to recognize a GIS layer or geographic area for a message. That way if my phone is assinged to one ciy, Hampton, but is in Norfolk I still get the warning for Norfolk.

    Another system allows people to sign up for alerts.

    As for Brandy’s second point – sigh. He is sadly quite right. NOAA has weather spotters for midwestern cities. Power companies take calls from citizens to find out where the power is out. Radio stations rely on people to call in and report traffic jams or accidents for the morning trafffic report.

    Cities, including mine, do not have this. I’m not sure people even know who in the city to call. Would they be there or would they be in the EOC. In case of a flood, anthrax attack or pandemic how will a city even know what is going on? Which sections are hurt.

    One example and then I will get off my soap box. After the tropical storm hit I called a friend in the EOC to say “Power is out in these neighborhoods. IT dept is on backup genny and will need diesel fuel tomorrow. Let the fire and ambulance people know these streets are closed due to power lines hanging across street. Other power lines down. Internet and phones are also out in my neighborhood. Trees on houses at this address. No injuries” Brandy you know what got me – the city was told by FEMA to have a full assesment in 48 hours.

    I whish cities would have better information collection and after this critical comment I hope to still have a job.

    To the HAM operators out there – salute.

  • #69764


    The city I live in has some phone system which will call you up (if you sign up) in case of an emergency situation.

  • #69762

    Craig Lachman


    If you’re looking for really robust, post-disaster communications, then I had a sales call the other day with a firm named Blue Force Development, They can air drop a hummer with a bunch of communications gear into an affected area and they have less intense solutions as well. I don’t know much about them, but I was impressed.

    If’ you’re looking for a less hard core solution, I’ve had experience with Twitter during the Southern California fires. Worked quite well to keep people informed (as long as they had a cell or wireless signal, of course).

    My firm, NewsGator,, provides a variety of widgets and RSS reader solutions that some agencies have investigated for providing updates during emergencies. Much less robust that Blue Force, but can be more mission focused than Twitter.

    Hope that helps.


  • #69760

    Emi Whittle

    Intense indeed! Wow – hopefully we won’t “need” a hummer, but ya never know! Ike really devastated our area, and it came ashore as a Cat 2. We’ll be in dire dire trouble if a Cat 5 hits!

    I’ll be looking at your website next. Thanks, again for the great feedback!!!


  • #69758

    Allen Sheaprd


    The blueforcedev and MUSE (mobile utilitye service equipment) a.k.a. “Power station in a box” are great but only for local disasters. Mayby up to Katrina. For a multi state larger disasters there just may not be enough equipment. If IKE had been worse then there would be two hurricane disasters to fight.

    People also have portable phone stations, restrooms and showers. Each is a 20′ long trailer that you “plug and play”

    One of the first things the National Guard and others will say is “co ordinate your plans with us. Each group has a different list of equipment. We sometimes get deployed with it. We are the DoD not Wal*Mart.”

    Twitter was called on during yesterdays fiber optic outage. “AT&T calls on Twitter during outage”

  • #69756

    Allen Sheaprd


    Does your EOC have CAT-5 plans?

    More? Yes please see my post below . The best story I know is from McDonalds. On Sept 12th, 2001 the calls came in to help. One manager and friend drove their mobile Mcdonalds kitchen down. This is the mobile unit they take to fares and NASCAR races. Red Cross was not sure where to put them but the Salvation Army did. They where feeding the people at the site 24×7. The manager worried about reporting that he was destroying a multi hundred thousand dollar kitchen by running it so hard. Corporate said “Don’t worry. We will buy you a new one and cover your pay”

    Often its the right person being in the right spot that makes all the difference.

  • #69754

    Emi Whittle

    Cool …. its neat to know what’s out there! I like the at&t article too…. THANKS!!

  • #69752

    The LA Fire Department has used Twitter during fires to let people know of evacuations – and although limitations to this has already been noted – so far it seems to have been a useful tool for them.

  • #69750


    Visit and find out what other government officials all across the States are doing in regards to Emergency Communication solutions. One the homepage, register as a government client, as long as you work for a government agency, research our market intelligence databases for free.

  • #69748

    Robert Hobart

    How much consideration has gone into revisiting the old “Civil Defense” posture and apparatuses? We (the nation) have some institutions and recommendations for preparedness that resemble this, but not in a focused or cohesive manner. A popular approach is to encourage the citizenry to make preparations to “shelter in place” for 24 – 48 hours – of which the list of items to have in your “Home Survival Kit” included an AM/FM battery-powered radio. Consider that subsequent to 9/11 and the catastrophic storms that hit the Gulf states, cellular telephone service was either overwhelmed or critical nodes went down due to lack of power or physical damage. Land lines (telephone) and good old AM/FM radio broadcasts prevail (i.e.: “This a test of the Emergency Broadcast System”). Now that everybody is switching over to digital television, that option is now only via radio. If every municipality had provisions for using AM/FM radio for emergency broadcasts, it would be “low-tech” and reliable – these mechanisms should also be hardened against Electro-Magnetic Pulse attacks, as well.
    This discussion is very interesting. I realize that it is intended for localized response but, considering the connectedness of our modern communications systems and the vulnerabilities of those systems, perhaps a look at a broader range of threats will lend to system development that will prevail when national systems fail. China’s current cyberwarfare campaign directed at the U.S. seeks the capability to disrupt/disable critical infrastructure (energy, transportation, finance, water, communications, emergency services/9-11, and the information infrastructure/Internet itself), building self-reliant and localized systems to prevail and maintain services through Recovery should be a priority.

  • #69746

    Emi Whittle

    Thanks! I’ll be looking!

  • #69744

    Emi Whittle

    Cool thanks!

  • #69742

    Emi Whittle

    Yep, I agree that in a broader sense, I hope our smart-people are thinking about all the different ways we could communicate. In many scenarios, communications may really need a variety of high and low tech ways of occuring.

    And, I have noticed with Twitter that there are occasional interruptions of service due to system overload….

  • #69740

    Jonni Burnham

    I had similar experience on 9-11. Only thing that worked was sms. A second advantage to sms is that it is pretty universally accessible. You can send a message to multiple addresses also. I would look for a tool that includes sms, and that itself will bring some restrictions on message length. I would think users would want to self-subscribe as they may be paying for the messages.
    You could look at this system, it works really well for me at work. My home county has one also.

  • #69738

    Emi Whittle

    Ah yes, my city has a system like that too. I just read a blog by Adam B. Arthur about twitter tools, and it includes a link to a tool that will convert a voice message into twitter text. That looks interesting too… yeah, some people will definitely NOT want to pay for text messages, true… no one perfect answer I guess, but at least having more options is good… Thanks for your reply!

  • #69736

    Tiffany Renee

    Best source of emergency comm is Ham radio. We have a very active net of operators and a group that is trained to support gov during emergencies. We are actually giving them a proclamation at our city council on Monday, Petaluma, CA. We also have many neighborhoods that are CERT trained and have a ham operator in them. We have a weekly net control where operators check in, so we are constantly connected and prepared for emergencies. Neighborhood information will flow from emergency to commend center where gov can access resources for response. Great program. We’re very proud of the effort.

  • #69734

    Emi Whittle

    Wow, sounds very coordinated! I’ll be clicking on your link! Thanks!

  • #69732

    Adam Arthur

    We are currently working on a Grid technology that would link up everything. Nodes (or several systems or sites that combine data grids, computational grids, and collaboration grids) can all be linked together to alert everyone of anything. Based on unique public health requirements, we’ve been focusing on open-source tools to develop robust public health services, as well as examining security, analysis, and visualization issues. That’s all I can say about it now- but, it’s coming.

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