National capital area first responders deploy new alert system

First responders in the nation's capital and surrounding jurisdictions are deploying a common text alerting system for emergency communications aimed at improving communications among jurisdictions and with citizens.

The District of Columbia and suburban governments in Maryland and Virginia are using the Roam Secure Alert Network for text-based notifications, created by Roam Secure Inc., the Arlington, Va.-based company said in a press release.

The system combines software, hardware and a secure server configured to support messaging among email accounts, cell phones, satellite phones, Blackberries, pagers and other devices. The system provides a common interoperable platform for text-based emergency alerting.

Each participating jurisdiction? which includes Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties in Virginia and Montgomery County, Md., and the cities of Alexandria and Arlington, Va. ? has its own redundant system that supports real-time, two-way information sharing among police, fire, emergency management, health, schools and specialty units such as military reserves and urban search-and-rescue teams.

The systems also communicate with one another, and citizens can sign up to receive text messages for official emergency alerts, said Laura Sankowich, a Roam Secure spokeswoman.

Officials of the National Capital Region, which has 12 jurisdictions, have endorsed the Roam Secure system, and it is receiving funding from the Homeland Security Department's Urban Area Security Initiative grant program to pay for the system, Sankowich said. She declined to disclose the cost of the system; additional information on funding was not immediately available.

"The NCR has adopted it," Sankowich said. "Everyone has the software in place and many are actively using it. A few are determining the usage models that are best for them."

There are separate channels on the system for emergency management, emergency notification, continuity of operations communications, and internal operations, Sankowich said.

"The NCR jurisdictions have adopted a common interoperable platform for text-based alerting," Ned Ingraham, project leader and senior IT manager for the DC Emergency Management Agency, said in the press release.

"They can use their stand-alone RSAN system to alert their first responders and key personnel, and they can share information with neighboring jurisdictions without maintaining separate databases, contact information, or deploying additional devices and systems," said Ingraham.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

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