Internet-phone network alerted Californians as flames charred neighborhoods
As horrific fires in Los Angeles and San Diego forced residents to flee their homes last month, officials sent more than 2 million voice messages and 685,000 text messages within the state of California to communicate important messages and alerts.
For the fires and other critical situations, many city and school officials use the Connect services provided by the Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based NTI Group Inc. to send messages from any Internet connection or just a phone line, if evacuated, and reach thousands of recipients through home phones, cell phones, text messages and e-mails. And as families leave their homes, they are able to continue receiving these important messages through their cell phones and stay connected to city and school announcements, even from evacuation locations.
With one of every two students enrolled in California’s public schools currently served by the Connect-ED service, NTI is seeing heavy usage by school administrators who send messages regarding school closures, air-quality issues, modifications to class and activity schedules and to communicate with and mobilize staff.
One day, 400,000 voice messages
On just one day during last month’s fires, San Diego Unified School District sent 400,000 voice messages in six different languages to update parents on school closures quickly and efficiently with a 95 percent success rate, according to the NTI Group.
Poway Unified School District, facing heavy parent and staff evacuations during the fires, sent more than 280,000 voice messages. As firefighters tried to contain and control the flames, the University of San Diego used its Connect-ED service to keep students and staff up to date, sending voice and text messages to its students and staff as needed throughout the day, according to the NTI Group.
“During this dire fire emergency, it is essential that officials can send messages to residents on their mobile, landline and text receiving devices,” said Robin Richards, chairman and CEO of NTI. “As residents throughout Southern California were evacuated from their homes, they looked to cities and schools to provide direction and updated information.”
Cities throughout California used the Connect-CTY service to communicate with residents and city employees during the recent fires and other critical situations. The city of St. Helena’s fire crews, in Northern California, used the service to call up its Strike Team units to Southern California to aid in fire containment, and the cities of Villa Park and Laguna Woods used the service to send messages to residents regarding unhealthful air quality conditions due to the Santiago fire in Orange County.
Majority of mass-notification messages were through Connect
Of all the mass-notification messages sent on one day during the recent fires in Southern California, according to the NTI Group, Connect-ED and Connect-CTY represented 68 percent of all voice calls and 91 percent of all text and e-mail messages delivered. Across the country, NTI said that it sent more than 3 million messages and 750,000 text messages on the first day of the fires through the Connect services.
With the Connect services, city and school administrators can send messages in any language. According to the NTI Group, because the service requires no additional hardware, Connect-ED and Connect-CTY can be used from any computer with Internet access or telephone, ensuring that administrators can send vital messages from wherever they are located, even if they have been evacuated due to the fires.
After the messages are sent, officials receive reports listing which contacts did not receive the message, giving the option to resend the message to those not reached or follow up via alternate means as needed.
Four modes of communication
According to the NTI Group, to ensure that important messages reach residents, students and parents quickly no matter what their preferred method of communication is, the Connect systems send voice and text messages through four different modes of communication:
- Voice messages to home phones, work phones, cell phones and e-mails.
- Text messages to cell phones, PDAs and other text-based devices.
- Written messages to e-mail accounts.
- Messages to TTY/TDD receiving devices for the hearing impaired.