New Orleans Tests Emergency Alert Network
As the State of Louisiana braces itself for what NOAA predicts to be another severe hurricane season, emergency officials took the lessons they learned from Katrina and Rita, nine months of recovery and planning, and put them in play for an intense two-day Hurricane Exercise. Testing communications was a key objective of the exercise. A system was deployed to alert the top 250 officials at the City of New Orleans, Jefferson Parish, St. Bernard Parish, Plaquemines Parish, the State of Louisiana, DHS and over 40 other agencies, jurisdictions and critical infrastructure providers.
The exercise simulated conditions that could occur if a Category 3 hurricane swept through the area triggering a mandatory evacuation, threatening levee breaches, knocking out power and severely disrupting communications.
Throughout the exercise, Homeland Security used a Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN) EMA system to deliver real-time situation reports and critical alerts to leadership of the various ESFs, neighboring parishes, state and federal officials via their email, cell phones, pagers, BlackBerries and Treos.
The text-based system was used last fall in the Gulf States after Hurricane Katrina.
” RSAN was a great tool for those in the field. It kept us informed about what was happening in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), out at evacuee staging sites, and across the region, said Lt. Col. Jerry Sneed, USMC, (ret) Planner for the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security.
One week prior to the exercise, Roam Secure CEO, David Drescher, testified before the Louisiana State House of Representatives Commerce Committee on the ability of text-based emergency communication to support interoperable emergency communications and statewide citizen warning during all-hazards situations. The House committee voted 14 to 4 to send to the House floor a bill to deploy an emergency communication system focused on text alerting. In his testimony Drescher cited hurricane Isabel in 2003 and the National Capitol Regions use of text alerting as a prime example of how text could help the parishes across Louisiana during future hurricanes. “The power went out, phones weren’t working,” said Drescher, “and government officials were able to send messages out directing people where to get ice, not to boil water, and what resources were available to them.”
More than 85 RSAN systems are in use across the United State by major cities, counties, federal agencies, hospitals, and key businesses. In the National Capital Region, Washington D.C. and 17 jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland already use RSAN daily to communicate with the regions first responders, employees, citizens, and businesses. The Northern California Regional Terrorism Threat Assessment Center uses the system to communicate with more than 100 local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies throughout the State of California. The Greater Philadelphia region also uses RSAN to send a variety of all-hazards notifications between local agencies and to first responders, key businesses, and critical infrastructure.
The NOLA Alert pilot system was stood up and made operational in just a few days. The number of users grew by 25% in the first few hours of the exercise as people came to the Citys EOC and signed up so they could remain informed during the exercise.
The Louisiana House committee overwhelmingly supported legislation introduced by State Representative Tim Burns that would establish text-based communication as a way to inform the public during major incidents. Representative Burns suggested that Louisiana establish such a system — stating that something needs to be done immediately to provide a better way to communicate among first responders and with the public during hurricane season.
For more information on Roam Secure Alert Network visit http://www.roamsecure.net