Getting the Word Out
Tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, mud slides, terrorist attacks. Disaster can strike anywhere, anytime—swiftly, and with little warning. Many U.S. state and local governments have emergency operational plans in place to facilitate a rapid response in the event of an emergency, addressing such critical activities as evacuation, sheltering, and distribution of supplies.
But one of the first things a government needs to do is to get emergency alerts out to the public. Today, as satellite technology displaces the old analog method of relaying emergency information, states and localities are employing digital satellite services to help enable a far more sophisticated form of their Emergency Alert Systems (EAS). In addition, the federal government has mandated a multi-media process to maximize information dissemination.
Digital Satellite Emergency Communications
Case in point: In 2011, the state of Alabama rolled out its GSSNet/Alert Studio CAP-EAS system, a state-of-the-art digital emergency communications system powered by Hughes that disseminates alerts in multiple formats.
Developed and operated by Global Security Systems (GSS), the system includes both its Alert Studio message origination portal and GSSNet satellite data delivery capability, leveraging a combination of the Hughes nationwide satellite service and terrestrial technologies to disseminate messages.
In addition, Alabama has adopted the federal government’s Common Alert Protocol (CAP), a digital XML-based data format for sharing and distributing emergency information. A CAP system enables alerts via multi-media applications, including road signs, cell phones, smart phones, reverse 911, TV, and radio. Since the CAP message is digital, audio quality is vastly improved. And because satellite communications transmits to everyone at the same time, state and local governments no longer need to rely on the analog daisy-chain approach.
When an alert is created in the Alert Studio application, the CAP message is sent via the Hughes nationwide satellite broadband service and GSSNet to radio and television broadcasters, where individual EAS decoders read the text over the air.
“The biggest problem we had with the old system was to get the message together and disseminate it to everyone,” said Larry Wilkins, chairman of the Alabama State Emergency Communications Committee (SECC). “When an emergency alert was created, it wouldn’t be pushed to the public at the same time. A dispatcher used to have to read it.”
The GSS Alert Studio portal can create and retrieve alerts in multiple formats, including MP3 files and live recorded messages that are disseminated on a national, regional, or local basis to receivers of AM, FM, and HD radio signals.
A Model System
“We avoid the hassles of the Internet, firewalls, and configuration issues,” added Wilkins. “Often the Internet can get congested. Using a satellite system with Internet backup was the best way to go for reliability. In addition, messages can now be generated remotely and transmitted from anywhere in the field using Hughes satellite technology, instead of just at the Emergency Operations Center or the Department of Public Safety.”
Today, with its proactive adoption of new satellite technology and coordinated information dissemination, Alabama is providing a model for other states of how to get the word out to the public as quickly and effectively as possible— helping citizens to reach safe haven as they ride out the storm.