AlertPA warns public now, will warn biz, critical infrastructure in the future

Monday, February 1, 2010

SARASOTA, Fla.—Pennsylvania’s new emergency notification system is already capable of notifing the public about emergencies and state employees about issues of interest to them. In the future, it will alert certain private sector businesses—deemed as critical infrastructure—of emergencies and announcements of all kinds, from winter storms to other life- or health-threatening events.

Called AlertPA, “It’s one way that technology can be employed to facilitate the access to information,” said Mary Johnston, homeland security project manager and administrator for AlertPA. Johnston works for the Governor’s Office of Administration, which is the entity that handles information technology for state agencies.

A state steering committee has worked closely with a group of critical infrastructure owners and operators in various sectors in planning for this capability, she said. Right now, citizens of Pennsylvania can sign up to receive alerts. The system can also be used to send alerts to state employees and different state agencies. It may be used, for example, to tell employees about a delayed opening in state government offices, an emergency in the capitol complex, AMBER alerts, and more.

“It’s still in the growing phase,” Johnston said.

In the future, the system will be connected to certain business partners. “The state is doing it and will be offering it as a service to those businesses … to help them make an informed decision from a private-sector perspective,” she said.

The CooperNotification RSAN system allows emergency officials to send event-specific instructions to multiple communication channels including voice-sirens, indoor and outdoor speakers, digital signage, text messaging/SMS alerting, automated dialing systems, desktop alerts, and email.

CooperNotification had an RSAN project in Philadelphia, which eventually expanded to five counties around the city. “During this process the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was watching the progress and could see the application as an enterprise-wide solution,” said Marco Muto, business development manager.

Cooper has a similar statewide system in Virginia and in the Washington metropolitan region. It is possible to tie the systems in together, said Bob Johnson, CooperNofication VP system sales. This capability could come in handy “in the case of a regional emergency that may affect more than just Pennsylvania,” he said.

These are the kinds of capabilities Pennsylvania may look at in the future, Johnston said. “It’s a work in progress.”