Atlantic County recently announced a new system for notifying residents and property owners in a countywide emergency or life-threatening disaster.
If those occur, it will send an alert to every traditional landline telephone in the county. (Mobile phones and internet-based telephones require registration to receive the alerts.) This is in addition to a state system that announces emergencies on all radio broadcast frequencies.
Comprehensive coverage and early advisories should help keep people safe in severe storms, other natural disasters and emergencies of all kinds. Registering with the system allows users to choose alerts by voice, text message, email, social media and other channels.
The county system — under contract with CivicPlus corporation — also works with an app, AlertMe, from Regroup Mass Notification. It lets users choose the alerts they wish to receive for nonemergencies, such as flooding and other weather events, local power outages, construction projects, wildfires and criminal activities.
That’s pretty useful. An alert about possible back-bay flooding could help avoid it later in the day.
Cape May County for a couple of years has used a similar emergency alert system through the OnSolve corporation.
Its CodeRED mobile app offers location-based alerts that use the GPS positioning of a person’s cell phone. Besides choosing which notifications to receive, users can limit personal warnings to those within a specified distance. It also receives alerts when in other CodeRED-covered jurisdictions, and OnSolve claims it is the nation’s most downloaded public safety notification app.
Ocean County uses yet another system, Nixle from Everbridge. It provides the usual alerts, a lot of traffic advisories, and community notifications such as this recent one: “Ocean County residents be mindful of phone calls claiming to be the IRS asking for money over the telephone.”
Cumberland County uses a simpler, more direct system from Swiftreach Networks Inc. It makes phone calls to specific people or areas for emergency communications, and also for sharing important information.
Atlantic County formerly used OnSolve’s CodeRED. Regroup advertises that using its app is cheaper than CodeRED, so perhaps that was a factor in switching.
All of these notification systems are helpful, and they’re getting better as the technology advances.
But the systems can’t communicate with each other, and mobile users of one won’t be helped by another system when they cross a county line — a pretty common event in compact South Jersey.
The emergency notifications system landscape is reminiscent of the early days of the internet, when users were frequently forced to go with one provider of hardware or software at the expense of being able to work or even communicate with people who chose otherwise.
The technology already is well-established to create a better emergency alert system. It would automatically provide customizable alerts to mobile phones based on their location wherever the user travels in North America. Users could choose additional alerts for any place — such as for back home, where loved ones live or the eventual destination of a trip.
Imagine having to use a separate weather site for each county, or to keep switching traffic maps as you drive to another state.
Government is already responsible for emergency information. When its technology catches up with the nongovernment world, that information should be standardized and openly available to app developers.
Competition will then deliver the best emergency alert user interface.