Washington’s First Cellular Alert System
After the 911 outage by Century Link, just before midnight people around Washington got messages on their cell phones delivering an urgent 88 character message stating the outage.
The message was to call directly to the first responders instead of 911 as the service was down.
The messages on the cell phones were sent by Washington’s emergency management division through a system to send push alerts for urgent issues. The state has acquired this system only on December 11th.
Not only the push messaging alert, but another service has also been added to Washington’s emergency service. You can send a message directly to 911. The service has been available for the people in King County for now and as per reports at the time of outage; the messaging service to 911 was open and widely used in the County.
The push alert system has not been developed fully. The emergency managers are testing it and trying to develop the best practices for sending out alerts.
Some people received multiple alerts on Thursday, as some Washington Counties also sent individual messages to the County people stating the 911 outage. The King County sent messages giving the complete information of alternative numbers as well. Some people who had subscribed for separate ‘Alert King County’ had got messages through that system as well. Different cities have their own alert system; the City of Seattle also has its own alert system and sent messages on Thursday.
State Wide Alert-
Alert messages meant for the whole state are sent through the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). It is called Wireless Emergency Alert. It was tested in October to send Presidential alert. It is administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency to broadcast messages on emergencies like extreme weather and missing children etc.
The system of giving an alert is of 90 characters. The alerts are sent through cell phone towers. Everybody in the network coverage will get the alerts unless opted out. But, the option to opt out is not given in case of presidential alerts.
The decision to use the IPAWS is left to the local agencies.
The decision to send statewide alerts was backed by many counties, though some counties had sent their specific information to the local people in their jurisdiction.
Now, the emergency management officials will be receiving feedback as of now before fully implementing the alert system throughout the state.
Having a backup system for spreading alerts is really needed. Like the outage happened this week, anything can go wrong with technology, until the service is restored, the backup cellular system can work — this way the important message of emergency can reach the concerned officials.
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