Growing business behind Boston's reverse-911 calls

The emergency notification systems used following the marathon attacks are part of a rapidly expanding industry.

By Bruce Kennedy Apr 19, 2013 4:01PM

Image: Man using cell phone at desk -- Jose Luis Pelaez Inc, Blend Images, Getty ImagesFiraz Gliel, a resident of Watertown, Mass., was asleep Friday morning when his neighborhood became the epicenter of the manhunt for one of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

"We were woken up at 3 a.m. by a reverse 911 call," Gliel told "The police told all the residents to stay put and not leave the house."

Three hours later, Ellie Garvey, a first-grade teacher living several miles away in suburban Boston, was heading out to work when her phone rang. It was a recorded message from her school, saying that, "due to the volatile situation in tracking down the suspects from Monday's attack," there would be no classes.

While Garvey was shocked by the call, she's very used to the school's emergency notification system. “We get them for snow days, mostly,” she told MSN Money, "anytime that they have to tell us all something. It's called an 'alert now' message."

These automated calls, known by a variety of names, have been used by American cities, businesses and schools for decades. And the industry behind these emergency mass notification systems continues to grow, using a flexible and adaptive combination of technologies to keep customers informed.

On Monday, when bombs exploded at the Boston Marathon, officials used the city's Everbridge systems to call additional first responders, police and other essential personnel to the scene. According to The Boston Globe, as cell phone service in the region became jammed from the flood of concerned people trying to contact friends and family, “Everbridge’s software was able to bypass overloaded cell towers by using land-based phone lines and Wi-Fi signals to send alerts to phones, email addresses, pagers, faxes, even electronic billboards or road signs.”

Another industry giant, Cassidian Communications, is owned by the North American division of EADS (EADSY), a European conglomerate that owns Airbus.

Cassidian has trademarked the term "Reverse 9-1-1." According to its website, its systems are “used by hundreds of law enforcement, fire/EMS and emergency management agencies, as well as military bases and school campuses nationwide.” The browser-based application uses databases and geographic information system technologies to quickly target communications within a specific area. Their system also delivers messages across a wide spectrum of media.

Start-up costs for an emergency notification system vary, and reportedly can range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Often, there are additional maintenance charges and fees.

Flynn Nogueira, Cassidian's marketing director, says a variety of factors are involved in pricing an emergency notification system -- including the population size being served and whether the system is being deployed and hosted on-site or elsewhere. And she notes there are federal grants available for some governments and organizations looking to purchase such systems.

But she warns that crisis notification technologies, while very useful, are "not a panacea."

"For this reason," she added, "Cassidian Communications always encourages people to take proactive measures to ensure their continued well-being, i.e., tuning to local TV and radio, monitoring social media sites, etc."

More on moneyNOW

Apr 22, 2013 5:17PM
I get them all the time from the chief of police to announce snow emergencies, street sweeping or even large road projects.
Apr 22, 2013 3:40PM
What, no bullhorns or loudspeakers?  Much cheaper and far more effective. 
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