The New Frontiers of Emergency Notification

Progress report on the future of ECS

Historically, emergency warning systems arose out of the need to respond to fire and war. The Great Fires of antiquity feasted on poorly constructed wooden buildings jammed so densely together, that an entire town could ignite in minutes and burn for days. In New Orleans (1788), 856 buildings burned in six hours. In Chicago (1871), 100,000 people lost their homes and 17,000 buildings were destroyed in a fire that burned for three days. There are two historic blazes in New York City, three Great Fires of London and four times Constantinople has burned and so on. Credit goes to the survivors for developing the fire and life safety systems and practices that protect us today. While not impossible, fires of mass destruction are exceptions rather than the rule these days.

What will drive new frontiers in emergency notification in the future? Unsurprisingly, the usual suspects —natural disasters, man-made events and disease—will be waiting for us tomorrow. What kinds of systems will we require to respond?

When Mother Nature flexes her muscles, the oceans rise, the earth cracks, wind, rain and fire come down from above. In the past decade, death tolls from natural disasters have been staggering. In Burma (2008) 138,000 people died in a cyclone. The Indian Ocean tsunami (2004) killed 280,000. Three earthquakes— Kazmir (2005), Sichuan (2008) and Haiti (2010) and two heat waves—Europe (2003) and Russia (2010) claimed approximately 300,000 lives.


Natural disasters

Most long-range weather forecasts project more frequent and stronger storms driven by rising ocean temperatures for the next 50 years. Most recently, Hurricane Sandy flooded New York City leaving millions stranded and without power. “I’m told that now we have a 100-year storm every two years,” said New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The good news is that through satellite imaging, advanced radar and other high-tech detection systems, the warning window for destructive storms, even tornados, has steadily increased. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will launch the GOES-R series of geo-stationary satellites into orbit in late 2015. According to Steven Goodman, GOES Senior Program Scientist, these satellites will be able to image storms up to five times faster than is done now and take 30 second update images of developing storms or hurricanes (

This eye-in-the-sky approach manifests itself in more effective emergency notification for systems that tie into the NOAA system and automatically target warnings to specific locations. Waiting until you see the funnel cloud on the horizon is no longer the rule of thumb. Notification systems that integrate with advanced weather detection, that can geo-target warnings to specific locations and overcome loss of power and network will help handle response efforts during natural disasters and be tomorrow’s moneymakers.

As in the past, tragic events haven driven disparate technologies through traditional barriers and onto the same landscape together. The most significant trend in the past 10 years has been the integration of physical security with information management—known as PSIM. The idea is that all security endpoints, such as cameras and keypads and sensors, are actually data points providing continuous raw data. That raw information is brought onto a software platform where it is monitored, analyzed and used to make better decisions. By applying the concepts of information management and business intelligence to the practices and technologies of physical and homeland security, tomorrow’s building, in essence, will be given a “brain.”


PSIM is the future, even of ECS

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