Life in the Fast Lane

First public mass notification program rolled out in New York City

Life moves fast in New York, and New Yorkers wouldn't want it any other way. We demand fast service, fast talking and fast transportation, and now the city has a public notification program that keeps everyone informed with important up-to-date alerts wherever they go.

Complete Coverage

Following the successful completion of a 17-month, fourarea pilot program of a system called Notify NYC, the services were rolled out citywide in May. Notify NYC delivers important city-specific information via e-mail, text and voice messages. Residents in all five boroughs can register multiple e-mail addresses and phone numbers to receive emergency alerts as well as noncritical advisories. All messages also are posted on www.nyc.govand distributed to 311 and 911 operators to ensure total information coverage. Notify NYC is supported by Blackboard Connect™, a fully hosted SaaS solution from Blackboard Inc.

"You can be just about anywhere and receive instantaneous information about events of concern in your community or any other area of the city," Mayor Michael Bloomberg said in a press release." Many New Yorkers have this technology in their pockets, and I'm glad that their government can now supply them with timely emergency information."

Blackboard Connect has the ability to send tens of thousands of time-sensitive messages in minutes via multimodal communications, including voice messages to land lines, cell phones and satellite phones; text messages to cell phones, PDAs, networked digital signage and other text-based devices; text messages to e-mail accounts; and messages to TTY/TDD-receiving devices for the hearing impaired.

With the partnership between Blackboard Inc. and Notify NYC, New Yorkers can stay informed about severe events, such as AMBER Alerts, natural disasters and other emergencies, and about less-severe events, such as brush fires, mass transit services delays and major utility outages. During an outage, the city will stay in touch with utilities to provide updates about when services will be restored. Subscribers also can choose to receive notifications about important public health issues in and around the city.

Behind the Scenes

Equal in importance to the fast and reliable delivery of messages is the accuracy of the information being disseminated. Notify NYC messages are written by public notification specialists from the Office of Emergency Management's 24-hour Watch Command, who coordinate with operations centers and field incident commanders from the city's first-response agencies to ensure the accuracy of messages.

"Most importantly, the e-mails, texts and phone calls emanating from Office of Emergency Management produce accurate information and dispel rumors," said Gale A. Brewer, the chair of the Committee on Technology in Government, in a press release. "This cutting-edge program is now ready to be available in all city zip codes. I urge New Yorkers to sign up, and I congratulate the mayor's office for the successes that have led to the expansion."

Designated city officials from various agencies can access and manage the Connect platform from any computer with an Internet connection. They can send messages to the entire city's contact list, to select groups or to specific geographic locations within the city. The public notification specialists will record or type a message, select language options for translation and press send.

Within minutes, officials will receive a detailed report that tracks message delivery. In case Internet connections become unavailable, a dial-in message feature allows administrators to send messages by phone.

"We're proud to partner with New York in expanding this successful program that can help New Yorkers be more engaged and aware of events around them," said Brendan Cotter, president of Blackboard Connect for Government, in a press release. "We've worked for years with large cities, agencies, institutions and systems that have the same goals and challenges that New York does in making their notification program successful, and we look forward to leveraging that experience to support a greater number of residents."

"With the system in place, residents will be more informed, involved and prepared," said Karl Engkvist, executive vice president of operations for Blackboard Connect. "They'll be more engaged with important events around them. In the long run, this can help make communities stronger and safe.

About the Author

Sherleen Mahoney is a Web managing editor at 1105 Media.

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