Cooper Notification solution weathers storm in nation’s capital

More than 4 million emergency messages help residents in region during severe thunderstorm and aftermath
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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

LONG BRANCH, N.J.—A rare and unusually destructive thunderstorm complex hit the nation’s capital and surrounding communities on June 29, causing a mass outage of 911 systems in some areas.

But emergency management officials still were able to get weather warnings and other important emergency messages out to nearly half a million people during the storm and its aftermath by using Cooper Notification’s Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN).

“We were very pleased with it,” Phil Conradt, Cooper product manager, told Security Systems News, regarding the network’s performance during the extreme weather event. Cooper Notification, part of Cooper Industries, is a mass notification provider based here.

Cooper said nearly 500,000 people received more than the 4 million alert messages between June 29 and July 2, a period of not only widespread power outages but also extreme heat. The company said the messages included not only emergency and severe weather alerts, but also “updated traffic patterns and road closures; school and government closings; and information regarding cooling centers, food, water and ice distribution locations.”

The fast-moving thunderstorm complex that hit the area is known as a derecho, according to news reports. While common in the Midwest, such storms are more rare in the Washington area, according to The Washington Post.

Conradt said the storm event stood out for a variety of reasons. “It wasn’t really expected, so it kind of caught a lot of people off-guard,” he said. Also, he said, a large number of people were without power for an extended time and “you couldn’t call 911 in many of the jurisdictions during that time.” The extreme heat exacerbated the situation, he said.

But the Roam Secure Alert Network wasn’t affected by the power outages and performed just as it was designed to do, Conradt said.

RSAN is the brand name for a product called a CWS, or community warning system, he said. Typically, customers for the product are public emergency management agencies.

“Each customer has their own dedicated system with dedicated resources, their own Web address and their own database … so each system is sort of stand-alone with redundancy built in,” he said.

In this case, there were 18 jurisdictions, such as the District of Columbia and Montgomery County in Maryland, with their own dedicated systems, he said. People living in the jurisdictions get alerts that range from emergency weather warnings to information about disaster recovery help by signing up through such means as a text message or on the Web, Conradt said.

During the storm crisis, Cooper Notification said, “alerts were sent simultaneously via email, text and voice to cellphones, land lines, smartphones, pagers and other devices. Utilizing multiple delivery channels increases the likelihood each population will receive the message no matter where they are located or evacuated.”

Conradt said, “We offer a layered solution where we don't espouse one kind of delivery method” over another. “We try to treat each channel equally.”

He said, “There is a kind of focus in the industry on voice notification and we think that’s a little over-weighted. We think telephonic voice is important but it does have drawbacks, such as speed, and it’s typically one of the first channels to go out in an emergency.”