Michigan county deploys public alert system

Wayne County, Michigan’s most populous county, has deployed a new system that enables communications interoperability and sends emergency alerts via a wide array of electronic devices and systems.

Representatives from Codespear, based in Birmingham, Mich., said its hardware and software enables local officials to send alerts by text or voice to the public via cell phones, pagers, computers, personal digital assistants or other handheld devices, in addition to TV and radio broadcasts.

They said the system can relay information about evacuation routes and other vital messages to residents in specific geographic areas. And it can translate messages into 13 languages, including Arabic. Michigan has a large population of Arabic speakers.

The system will also enable operators of hazardous chemical plants in the area to alert local first responders and residents if they release harmful chemicals.

Glen Seaman, a Codespear vice president, said a Web site allows residents to create a profile and provide contact information for the communications devices they carry. During an emergency, the system would send an alert to the devices in the language specified by users.

In a statement, Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano said 43 separate transactions were required to get one message out to agencies in each community. “Now it’s one click of the mouse,” he said.

Codespear provides small radio interface units, which operate off a computer’s battery and can bridge different radio systems and other devices. The hardware and software enable users to recognize others on the system and provide secure and encrypted communications among emergency responders. But Seaman said it can also add first responders on the fly, such as during an incident. Because the system is redundant, it does not have a single point of failure, he added.

Gregg Rowland, Codespear’s vice president of sales and marketing, said the system still allows individual agencies to manage and control their own technology.

“The bottom line is each customer can run their own show and share when they need to,” he said.

Company representatives said county law enforcement officials, emergency responders and others conducted exercises using the system before Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game this summer in Comerica Park in Detroit, which is located in the county.

When the county issued a request for proposals earlier this year, it had budgeted about $36 million in federal homeland security funds for hardware and software for the system, company representatives said. Codespear’s hardware and software cost the county only about $3 million, they said.

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