You've Got Emergency Mail!

I often consider myself something of a Neo-Luddite (one who opposes technological advances), railing against overzealous cellphone users and people who spend too much time on the Internet. Having said that, my only phone is a cellphone, and I pay top dollar for broadband Internet access at home. For true Luddites, it might seem there's just too much communicating going on in the world today. Maybe . . . but there are genuinely useful and potentially life-saving applications for cellphones and the Internet that you might want to know about.

One application I recently learned of is the service provided by the Emergency Email Network Inc. (EENI), a company based in Jacksonville, Fla., that specializes in emergency notification to both wireless and wired devices for first responders, officials, employees, and citizens. In addition to operating the country's largest public service network that provides free emergency content about weather and homeland security (as well as selected other news), the company provides two fee-based messaging solutions offering a variety of notification options for businesses and organizations.

Let's start with the first service. The company's Web site, www.emergencyemail.org, is a cyber gateway to all types of emergency notification from national, state, county, and city government, as well as certain public service agencies. Visitors can sign up to receive homeland security updates and severe weather news, delivered to their e-mail address, cellphone, fax machine, or personal digital assistant (PDA). It only takes a few minutes to complete the form; as long as users just want information pertaining to their county or parish, it's free.

Help from the Wild Wild Web
This public service was conceptualized in 1999 during Hurricane Floyd and the ensuing chaos of mass evacuations. J. William Tamargo, EENI's CEO and one of its founders, said he and his associates believed they could harness the burgeoning popularity and technology of the Internet to help bring more order to emergency operations in the future. At the time, many Internet inventions were fun and crazy but not necessarily practical, he said. Today, EENI sends out more than 100 million messages per year, a volume Tamargo said is not too far behind the AOLs and Yahoos of the world.

Helping to fund this vast, free public service is the commercial side of EENI. If a person or business seeks to expand the notification information to cover more than one area, there is a cost based on the number of locations being added. If someone is interested in this enhanced content, a salesperson will call and work up a price schedule--it can be as low as $3 per month ($36 per year) or up to several thousand per month, depending on how extensive is the coverage area someone wants.

Expanded content is one option for company owners who wish to provide employees in different locations the notification service. However, EENI offers another solution more beneficial to large organizations: the Enotem™ Notification Manager (ENM). This is Emergency Event Notification software that provides a company with its own custom Web portal designed specifically for the company's communicative needs, enabling permission-based access for an unlimited number of administrators and subscribers.

Sending Out an S.O.S.
Employees not only receive the expanded weather and security content transmitted through EENI. Organizations now have the ability to create event-specific messaging scenarios in advance that pertain directly to the company. For instance, a site manager could create a message saying, "plant closing, evacuate immediately," and employees would be notified instantaneously via any desktop or laptop computer, landline, fax machine, cellphone, or PDA.

Tamargo demonstrated how quickly this takes place by putting my cellphone information into a test program. Within seconds, I received both a text message and a recorded call alerting me of a used truck for sale in the parking lot. While this obviously was a non-emergency test message, I could definitely see the benefit of this service for communicating urgent information.

ENM gives an organization control over what messages are being delivered, an aspect Tamargo believes to be a big advantage of using this service. "If you are an emergency manager for a utilities company, you need to know of specific threats but might not want everyone else to know. You would receive the alerts and then be in charge of who gets them after that," he said. There is also a built-in feature that requires verification of message receipt so that when users get an emergency notification, they are instructed to enter a number or voice acknowledgement. This allows a system administrator to track the success of message communication.

This application is marketed as a cost-effective means of broadcasting information because it takes advantage of the ubiquitous use of mobile devices and employees' access to computers at work and at home--technology sources that are widespread, even among us staunch Neo-Luddites. For more information on the free public service or commercial products, visit www.emergencyemail.org or www.enotem.com.

This column appeared in the April 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

This article originally appeared in the May 2005 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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