Agencies use Roam Secure for emergency messages

The Department of Health and Human Services will employ an emergency communications system that can send e-mail and text messages to thousands of computing and wireless devices instantly.

"It doesn't matter the carrier, it doesn't matter the pager, they can have a Blackberry, they can have a Motorola pager, even just a little Arch Wireless pager," said Daniel Gadra, vice president and general counsel with Roam Secure Inc. "You can send to all these devices simultaneously and basically the message goes out to these devices in a couple of minutes. We're really one of the only systems if not the only system that can do that that quickly."

HHS will use Roam Secure's RSAN system to contact top agency officials and locate, notify and instruct employees during emergencies. Gadra said several other high-level federal entities are using the system but would not identify them. Local governments, including Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Fairfax and Arlington counties in Virginia and other public-sector agencies are using the system.

The company actually has three versions of the system. One is for emergency management. Another, which is the one used by HHS, is called the continuity of operations edition. The third is a newer public version, called the Citizen Warning System. The systems can be tied to one another to make it easier to share information among the various agencies and governments, Gadra said.

RSAN uses two-way messaging so the person who's sending the messages can sit there at the screen and in real-time watch the replies return, said Gadra. "We set it up so we can have 100 percent assurance that you've gotten the message," he said. "Anything less than 100 percent is not good enough in this business."

The system is self-subscribing so people can manage their own accounts with passwords and change their cell phone numbers, pager numbers or e-mail addresses.

"You can imagine how much of a burden it takes off of the [human resources] people or the tech people in these organizations to try to keep up with these databases of thousands and thousands of names of people moving in and out of the office all the time, new hires and that sort of thing," said Gadra.

The public version of the system allows every citizen and business in a local area to sign up their e-mails, cell phones or pagers to get messages. This would enable emergency managers to instantly send instructions or updates to an entire city or to just local neighborhoods based on zip codes. Gadra said a system in Georgetown in Washington, D.C., is being tested for an eventual citywide rollout.

Pricing depends on the edition. A basic emergency management system costs about $35,000 to $50,000 with redundancy, Gadra said. A typical continuity of operations system could run as little as $15 per user per license. The public version depends on population among other factors, he said.

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