Texas city tests two-way emergency comm platform

The City of Manor, Texas, is deploying a pilot platform designed to deliver location-specific alerts to residents during a crisis and allow them to send information back to emergency responders via smart phones.

The City of Manor, Texas, is testing a platform designed to deliver location-specific alerts to residents during a crisis and allow them to send information back to emergency responders via smartphones.

Manor is partnering with CiviGuard, a provider of emergency communications technology, on the six-month pilot to test and show the usefulness of the system with a select group of residents, said Dustin Haisler, chief information officer for Manor, a growing community located east of Austin.

Many mass notification systems push volumes of information out to people, which might not be the most effective way to communicate with residents during a disaster, Haisler said. City officials thought the time was ripe to rethink how the city responds to disasters, he said, adding that Manor is known for its use of innovative technology.

Rather than just pushing information to residents, the CiviGuard will let residents send back information about who they are and where they are located if they need assistance during a crisis or event, Haisler said.

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CiviGuard’s rapid-messaging capabilities, location-specific alerts and cross-platform optimization will give the city's first responders the ability to more effectively disseminate crucial information to civilians in crisis situations, he said.

CiviGuard combines smart-phone technologies, a cloud-based infrastructure, multi-touch scenario management and intelligent message distribution into a single offering, according to Zubin Wadia, co-founder and chief executive officer of CiviGuard.

The company is working with three cloud computing providers -- Amazon, NASA’s Nebula cloud platform, and RackSpace.

The communications platform should be operational on the Nebula cloud within the next 30 days to provide services to the academic community, Wadia said. In fact, the company has an office at NASA Ames Research Park, Calif.; its other location is in White Plains, N.Y.

Mobile platforms supported include Android 1.5 and higher, Apple iPhone and BlackBerry Version 6.0 and higher. Support for Microsoft Windows 7 is slated by year’s end.

On the server-side, CiviGuard uses two map service providers - Google Maps as the primary, and Microsoft Bing Maps as the secondary. On the client-side, users can take advantage of three modes of operation during a crisis - data, Short Message Service (text-messaging) or local mode.

The local mode involves the delivery of a locally cached static map of the last known locale set by the user if no updates from the CiviGuard server can reach residents. The static map highlights major interstates, exits and key points-of-interest for food, shelter and medical assistance, according to CiviGuard.

The CiviGuard emergency communications platform is being demonstrated at the Gov 2.0 Expo co-sponsored by O’Reilly Media and UBMTechWeb at the Walter Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C from May 25 -27.