Gustav provides Cooper Notification system test

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

NEW ORLEANS--Cooper Notification’s mass notification system has been in place here since last summer, but September’s Hurricane Gustav was the first major test of Cooper’s Roam Secure Alert Network here.

Hurricane trackers originally thought that Gustav might turn into a Category 5 hurricane and a replay of the 2005 Hurricane Katrina. That was not the case, fortunately, yet Cooper’s system was an essential element of the evacuation of this city and Jefferson Davis Parish, and nearby Newton County, Miss.

“This was the largest single-event usage of the system [in this area] so far,” said Ned Ingraham, vice president, homeland security service for Cooper. It has sent out 2,000 separate alerts since it was implemented, he said. Prior to and during Gustav, the system sent out one million messages, but that “is by no means the largest usage of this [type of system],” he said. In February during a winter storm in the Washington, D.C.-area, a RSAN system sent 1.5 million within 24 hours.

The system “remained operational throughout the storm and related power outages, and it was critical to the success of our evacuation and keeping the public informed before, during and after the disaster,” said Jefferson Davis Parish Sheriff Richard Edwards Jr., in a prepared statement.

Cooper officials say the text message is only one capability of the system, but it’s often the best way to reach people during a disaster.

“We see text as part of a comprehensive platform that includes Web sites, emergency alerting systems, voice and text,” Ingraham said. “The problem you run into is that [some of the communication modes] require direct power from electricity.” The phone system for example also requires moderate usage. “It can take hours and hours to reach [a large group of people] by phone. It’s simply a function of the architecture. Text can handle much greater volume.” Text sends “brief bursts of information … where there is ample bandwidth.”

Beyond notifying people within an RSAN system, text can be used to contact emergency and government entities elsewhere.

“It’s very much a regional deployment that allow you to reach peers and share resources,” Ingraham said.