Over the past 12 months we have watched Cyclone Larry and Hurricane Katrina wreak havoc on large parts of inhabited coastal areas. We have seen the terrorist bombings in London and we have been witness to the devastation caused by an earthquake in northern Pakistan.
As emergency responders will admit, one of the important facets when dealing with any disaster is to quickly assess and try to deal with the situation amid all the panic.
For an adequate and functioning communication system is needed, which does not suffer from panic. Without a decent communications system, dealing with even small calamity can become an insurmountable task.
Insofar as disaster recovery goes, no communication means no disaster recovery. In this age of uncertainty that we live in, a full-functioning disaster recovery plan must be an integral component of any risk management system.
According to Adtec Communications, there have been a number of recent examples where a good communication system would have actually saved lives.
In terms of the emergency services talking to each other, the quicker the better. These first few hours can be the difference between life and death. If the NYPD had our ALERTS system during 9/11 for example, they would have saved a lot more lives.
Senior management's leadership is vital during a disaster. While events can vary dramatically, there are numerous guiding principles to effective disaster response and communication is critical to success.
Typically, the first thing is panic or disbelief, then people trying to remember what happens next. Technology such as ALERTS (or Adtec Linked Emergency Response Telephone System) gives them the ability to react quickly and positively, without using too much effort.
Usually ALERTS gets things started, then the plan can be swung into action. ALERTS helps the organisation to get the plan into action a lot quicker.
In many disaster scenarios, communication difficulties are often hard to separate from coordination difficulties, and the great coordination difficulties are inter-organisational.
Therefore, many of the communications problems are those related to inter-agency information sharing. Frequently, the means for communication exists, but for a number of reasons, persons are hesitant to communicate with others outside their own organisation.
Inter-organisational communication is fostered by those factors which promote trust in other organisations and familiarity with how they function.
These include: informal contacts, joint planning and training, preplanned agreements for the division of disaster responsibilities, and the use of similar terminology, procedures, and performance criteria. On a technological level, inter-organisational radio and comms networks, common mapping systems, and computer networks also contribute to an effective and seamless communications policy.
With an ALERTS group, the rescue or response team is already acknowledged, so therefore a basic coordination structure is already there.
This is because alternative systems used here are usually fairly basic, without the added functionality of products such as ALERTS.
The equivalent product offering from a major telecommunications company, for example, can only be used by certain government groups and is already full.
The other products on the market tend to be either simple SMS alerting or just large scale notification systems. None of them have all the features of ALERTS, which can be and is continually upgraded with new customer requirements.
He notes that ALERTS has been specifically designed for any situation where users need to connect people and mobilise response teams including emergency services alerting, trauma team notification, events management, project management, disaster recovery, public transport, news coverage and airlines to name just a few areas.
Furthermore, it would be wrong not to acknowledge that the creation of a comprehensive disaster response plan calls for the involvement of senior management as well as communications professionals, which at one level or another will include communications technology such as ALERTS.
And public scrutiny is now a fact of life for all institutions, and management is learning that preparation can make the difference between success and failure in the perceived handling of a disaster.
This then flows heavily into the Duty of Care provisions that most, if not all, organisations now have to address. Without products such as ALERTS, there can be no way of even coming close to addressing the provisions in Duty of Care legislation.
Any organisation that can benefit by having a first response team called out or notified can use ALERTS and it only takes a phone call to start it.
The ALERTS system is so robust and versatile, it is being used by a number of emergency services around the country such as NSW RFS, SA Metro and Country Fire Services, VIC SES, two NSW area health services and 3 Heartstart volunteer groups to name a few.
According to Adtec Communications, Emergencies and disasters around the world are not going to get any easier to deal with, so it is up to senior management and others in positions of leadership to ensure that the emergency responders have good technology available to give them chance of saving the maximum number of lives immediately after a crisis.
The technical features of alerts
- Activation by calling telephone number and entering PIN
- Simple voice prompts for initiators and participants
- Multiple contact numbers possible for each participant
- Calls programmable for emergency conference or broadcast message
- Easy changes to team members by administration personnel
- Multiple conferences can be held simultaneously
- Local or remote control by operator software
- Interfaces to radio paging systems
- Recording of all voice traffic on system
- Interactive voice response menu for different actions
- Team rostering so members can make themselves unavailable
- Logging of all system activity
- System memory retained in event of power failure
- ALERTS can be expanded easily by addition of line cards