When a municipality or county encounters a crisis, reaching first responders and residents quickly, easily and cost-effectively is essential. Whether they use two-way radios to reach emergency personnel, make manual calls to residents likely to be affected by an approaching forest fire, or use an auto dialer to reach residents with a hurricane warning, the majority of municipalities and counties are using outdated and inefficient methods to reach their citizens, and are therefore wasting precious time and resources.
Others, like Egg Harbor Township, are taking advantage of state-of-the-art technology such as Global Connect’s Emergency Notification System, to reach their residents and emergency management personnel virtually instantaneously. The systems, which use Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) to convert voices into a digital signal that can travel over the Internet, allow municipalities and counties to record a customized message and send the recorded message to a large database of telephone numbers within minutes.
System features that we have found particularly useful during an emergency include the following:
Customized mapping The customized mapping feature helps a municipality or county identify which residents are most likely to be affected by a particular event or emergency. For instance, the area of Egg Harbor Township known as West Atlantic City encounters flooding approximately four or five times each year. When that area is in danger of flooding, we look at a township map on our computer screen, click the streets that are likely to be affected, and automatically generate a list of numbers to call with a flood warning.
Real-time reports The system provides detailed, customized reports in real time, and as a result, we know which residents have received our calls. Depending on the nature of the emergency, we might instruct the system to call again, telling it how often and how many times to call, or we might send an officer to make contact in person. The information provided by the reports allows us to staff properly and use our resources wisely.
Instant callback When residents need help or more information about an emergency, the instant callback feature allows them to reach the emergency management office or other designated information office with the touch of a button on the telephone keypad. This feature becomes particularly important in cases of our seniors and other residents with special needs, allowing them to reach us to confirm their condition or request assistance.
Remote access and deployment Because the system is 100 percent web-based, we can deploy a message at any time of the day or night, from any location. Only a telephone is required to record and send a broadcast.
We use the system to reach not only residents, but also first responders and staff members. Whether we are contacting the S.W.A.T. team in the case of an extreme emergency or a snow removal crew in the event of a severe storm, the Emergency Notification makes it easy to reach key personnel quickly and effectively.
While some notification systems and tools require public entities to purchase and maintain telephone lines and hardware, these expenses are not incurred with the web-based Emergency Notification System used by Egg Harbor Township. As a result, we have saved municipal dollars while taking advantage of this reliable and cost-effective notification system.
In July of 2006, before Egg Harbor Township began using the Global Connect Emergency Notification System, two of our police officers were shot during a routine traffic stop. The suspect was apprehended within hours of the shooting, but the fact that we did not have a fast, easy and reliable way to reach officers and residents certainly made the pursuit more difficult and dangerous. Hopefully, the instances in which we’ll be called upon to use the system will be few and far between, but when an emergency does occur, I’m glad to know that we can rely on the system to reach people quickly.