Tuesday, February 5, 2013


It can't happen, but . . .

Because, like Popeye the Sailorman, I am who I am, I always play the "What if" game.

Today the game revolves around "emergency notification," the notification needed when something goes bump in the night.

There are a number of vendors offering emergency notification services.

They can contact anyone via

  • landline (subscriber or business line)
  • cell phone (voice and data)
  • computers with internet connectivity

All the customer has to do it contact the vendor and tell the vendor what to broadcast and to whom. Most offer multiple message options: Message A for Group 1, Message 2 for Group 2, etc.

Sounds great.

So where is the inevitable "got'cha"?

What are you going to do if the event is widespread?

  • A tornado
  • An earthquake
  • A hurricane
  • A flood

and you cannot communicate with the outside world.

Telco lines get ripped down. Underground cables get water logged or cut. (This also can happen due to traffic accidents or backhoes gone berserk.)

Dishes get blown off, or simply blow to a new direction.

Those things can happen at any "end."

Basically, the Enterprise Risk Management practitioner needs to find ways (plural) to work around any "disconnect."

There ARE alternatives, albeit some are expensive.

Two-way radio is one of my favorites.

VHF for "around town" communications. Shortwave (HF) for long-distance chats.

Commercial tv and radio also are good, IF someone can get to the station and IF the station is on the air (does it have a generator; is the broadcast tower still standing).

Of course, this "assumes" that the person you need to contact has power and has the radio or tv turned on and to the station used for the announcement.

With the overwhelming popularity of cell phones, pagers are archaic - but they can prove valuable - proving the pager staff is at work and the pager tower is up.

True story. A hurricane is coming to south Florida. My client had a contract with a local pager company (interestingly, a company I wrote about when working for a PBX manufacturer). The client called the pager company to page its staff. No one answered the pager company's phone. Why. Being a good boss, the company manager sent all his staff home to ride out the storm. My client's pager plans were for naught.

Thinking about using the smart phone's Push-To-Talk (PTT) feature?  Keep in mind that while this is basically two-way radio, it usually goes though a repeating tower - a tower that may not be available.

While it is neither high-tech nor instantaneous, on-going communications with personnel can be via bulletin boards. Many supermarkets and laundromats have notice boards. The communications can be "semi"-cryptic providing the reader is trained to "translate" the message.

Calling up soldiers without alerting "the world" used to be, and in some laces still is, via coded messages such as "Bill Jones call home" or "Frank Smith, your wife just went into the delivery room." Of course when more than a few people got up to leave, those no in the know could figure out something was up.

Again, personnel must know where to look, and how often. The problem may be in getting the message to the bulletin board; again, think flood and earthquake, and assuring the building hosting the bulletin board still is standing, think tornado and hurricane.

When thinking about emergency communications, think beyond high tech. Some of the old fashioned ways just might be the most efficient, effective, and economical.

Flying the (US) flag upside down still is a sign of distress. Not fancy, but it does convey the message.

At one time in my life, while working for a manufacturer of mil-spec two-way radios (HF to GHz) I facetiously wrote a document that described dual-mode media. One mode was a flashlight; the other was a semaphore mounted on an antenna (we had lots of those). At night, the flashlight sent dots and dashes; during daylight hours, the message was wig-wagged. It was humor, but thinking back . . .



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