PUBLIC WARNING in the nation's capital

RSAN and WAVES mass notification systems inform the public of impending harm


     RSIX is the first national exchange for emergency information where customers can share both public and private emergency information securely, reliably and in real time. RSAN is an emergency communication system used by governments, emergency management agencies and first responders to send emergency alerts, notifications and updates to private citizens' cell phones, pagers, Blackberrys, PDAs and/or e-mail accounts. This system began alerting capital district residents in 2002. Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) grant funding in the amount of $3 million initiated the project, which has now been extended to Arlington, Alexandria, and Fairfax, Virginia, and other densely populated suburban areas surrounding the district.

     With RSIX, RSAN systems across the country and other third party information sources can share emergency information anywhere, anytime. Roam Secure, located in Arlington, Virginia, allows subscribers to choose the types of alerts they want to receive as well as the time of day alerts are delivered and on which devices.

     Ned Ingraham, vice president of homeland security services at Roam Secure, says there are approximately 100,000 registered subscribers in the NCR and efforts are underway to increase visibility.

     "When a municipality becomes part of RSAN, they use public service announcements, paid advertising and a variety of print and outdoor signage to let people know where to sign up," he says. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) funding has paid for publicizing RSAN to the communities.

     Roam Secure's alerting services have the capability to be used internally among all public safety sectors and then to provide information to the public either in a small area (such as a hazmat incident) or major occurrence (tornado activity or terrorist threat).

     Roam Secure understands the goal of moving pertinent information quickly without flooding the network with duplicate and irrelevant messages.

     "We are constantly monitoring the frequency and quality of messages being delivered," Ingraham emphasizes. "We look to see that messages are delivered in a timely manner and that they are relevant to the area and incident. We don't want the public receiving more warnings than necessary, because we want them to pay attention to the ones that can impact their lives."

     According to Ingraham, the more entities using the communications platform, the more effective it becomes. Several undisclosed, high-level government entities, departments of health and local businesses are part of RSAN in the district area.

     The system also is deployed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; New Orleans, Louisiana; Orange County, Florida; the San Francisco Bay Area in California, as well as on university campuses.

     "In response to the unfortunate incident at Virginia Tech, campus officials have either acted on previous plans to purchase a campus-wide alerting system, or have recently contacted us for information and testing," says Ingraham.

     The University of Maryland recently installed a $54,000 Roam Secure alerting system for its 35,000 students, staff and alumni.

     "When municipal law enforcement can easily communicate with campus police, it allows faster, more targeted response and community notification," notes Ingraham.

     Municipalities can choose to buy the system outright and host it on their own servers, or use a shared hosting system whereby Roam Secure also hosts, providing backup servers and redundancy.

Over the river
     Also on July 4, 2007, across the Potomac River in Arlington, just a few miles from the National Mall, another group of people were assembled at the Iwo Jima Memorial. As the same line of storms threatened, Arlington police deployed WAVES (Wireless Audio Visual Emergency System), a new outdoor warning system that had just been installed.

     "The WAVES mass notification system (MNS) effectively integrates multiple communication technologies into one solution," says Dr. Alan Avidan, director of marketing and founder of MadahCom Inc., a division of Cooper Wheelock, located in Sarasota, Florida.

     The message, which simply states the situation (severe thunderstorms approaching, seek shelter in buildings, not under trees), was repeated twice in English and once in Spanish. WAVES allows for clear human voice instructions to be transmitted within buildings and outdoor venues. The messages are preceded by alert tones similar to the EAS tones.

     DHS recently issued a certification for the WAVES MNS as an "approved product for homeland security" under the Support Anti-Terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act of 2002 (SAFETY Act). This act provides legal liability protection for MadahCom and its customers of WAVES. Under the SAFETY Act, WAVES is the only certified and approved product for mass notification.

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