Staying alert with Honeywell

March 2009 Fire & Safety

When it comes to emergency situations, every second matters. And many governments are realising the need to add new tools and techniques to connect with residents and help ensure their safety.

Contra Costa County, which includes 19 cities in the San Francisco Bay Area, recognised an opportunity in early 2007 to augment its existing community warning system with more advanced technology after a fire broke out at a major oil refinery in the city of Richmond, Calif.

For years, the county relied upon a warning system that incorporated outdoor sirens, weather radio warnings, media notifications and a basic phone system to alert residents during an emergency. When toxins from the fire’s smoke posed a threat to area residents, sirens sounded immediately. However, a software glitch with the phone system delayed the transmission of a phone message communicating the danger to nearly 2800 households.

The missing link

Following the phone system failure, county officials turned to Honeywell Instant Alert Plus, a Web-based, two-way emergency notification service capable of sending up to 175 000 30-second phone calls and 125 000 text messages in 15 minutes. Because Instant Alert Plus uses a series of distributed, redundant call centre networks to broadcast information, the service is one of the most reliable means of emergency communication available.

In addition to fast and efficient phone notification, Instant Alert Plus seamlessly connects with other components of the warning system using the SOAP application programming interface (API). As a result, the service ties into the county’s Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) architecture, which allows:

* Typically independent components, such as a geographic information systems (GIS) mapping programs and E911 databases to ‘talk’ to each other, giving the county more flexibility to pinpoint messages based on location.

* County officials to activate the entire system with the push of a button, notifying county residents faster than ever before.

* Non-English speaking residents to receive messages quickly in their native language while saving time and resources for the county.

Behind the scenes

During an emergency, the community warning system’s GIS mapping program outlines the impacted neighbourhoods on a Web-based map. Through CAP integration, the program taps into the E911 database, identifying resident phone numbers within the designated area. The database then automatically links to Instant Alert Plus, which sends a message to the specified residents.

The county also uses the SOAP API and CAP to integrate Instant Alert Plus with an experimental, multilingual technology that delivers messages to certain non-English speaking residents. The county provides these residents with a special box that connects to a household phone. When the county sends an alert in English, the broadcast also includes a brief data burst that causes the box to play a pre-recorded ‘shelter in place’ or ‘all clear’ message in the household’s preferred language.

The service also includes a teleconference bridging feature as well, which gives the county the ability to bring key decision makers together quickly to discuss the situation and develop a response plan.

“Instant Alert Plus is a reliable service that allows us to warn residents, activate emergency plans and rally first responders with a single phone call or mouse click,” said Art Botterell, manager, community warning system for the Office of the Sheriff of Contra Costa County.

For more information contact Debbie Rae, Honeywell Southern Africa, +27 (0)11 695 8000,

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