Fairfax offering electronic alerts
- By Dibya Sarkar
- Jun 18, 2002
A Northern Virginia city has implemented a messaging system that provides
residents and employees with real-time electronic alerts during emergencies
as well as offers reminders and notifications.
To subscribe to the free service, Fairfax residents must provide their
name, address and phone numbers (www.ci.fairfax.va.us/emas)
to receive a log-in and password. Users can then choose from 24 categories
including weather alerts, road closures, school closings, bid notifications
and even dog tag reminders and receive e-mails or text messages on cell
phones or pagers.
Gail Bohan, the city's information technology director, said 150 people
have already signed up for the system, which was unveiled June 11. She said
the need for such a system was precipitated by the Sept. 11 attacks and
the communication problems that resulted in New York City.
An example of its use could be if a snowstorm blacked out the telephone
lines in the city, then residents and employees could be alerted through
alternative means, she said. The system could be used to alert parents to
early school closings or to inform motorists about traffic jams. She said
city department heads and supervisors could use it to contact their employees.
Shortly after Sept. 11, she said Dave Balroop, director of Fairfax-based
Advanced Software Systems Inc.'s wireless mobile commerce division, contacted
her about the company's newly developed Electronic Message Alert System
(eMAS). All city departments were involved in the planning process, said
Bohan, adding that some departments are responsible for alerts to certain
groups, while the community relations department provides most other alerts.
By the end of the year, the country will have 150 million cell phone
users, Balroop said. Although most people use them for voice rather than
text messaging, 95 percent of cell phones can send and receive text messages,
Balroop said eMAS is device-, carrier- and geography-independent, meaning
messages can be sent to anywhere in the country. It can work with wireless
pocket PCs, and voice messages can be sent to landline phones if a municipality
has that module. The system also provides an audit trail, tracking every
message sent out and to whom, he added.
To implement the system, all a municipality needs is Internet and e-mail
access. "If you have these two ingredients, you're set to go," Balroop said.
The system puts "all aspects of technology into one big basket."
Balroop said several other municipalities in the Northern Virginia area
are interested in the service as well as a few federal agencies. The initial
cost is $34,500, with an additional cost of $14,500 to customize the system.
There is a yearly maintenance fee of $2,500, which includes upgrades, he