Free software and crisis. Handling emergency alerts

Free software and crisis
In times of emergency, the transmission of reliable information is essential. With a previous article We reviewed some of the ways that open source hardware devices, such as the Raspberry Pi single board computer, are useful allies to the task of radio amateurs.

Then We will see another sector in which free and open source software is an excellent option. The programs for notification of emergencies.

Free software and crisis. Characteristics of emergency notification programs

Most of us lead a life protected when it comes to disasters. Those of us who live in cities can suffer a power outage, a minor flood caused by a short but heavy rain, or an especially serious traffic accident.

However, there are millions of people who, due to their geographical location, are exposed to tsunamis, earthquakes, tornadoes, volcanic eruptions, radioactive releases and other types of natural or man-made events. They need access to real-time information that allows them to make the necessary preparations to protect themselves.

Through Using emergency notification programs you can send relevant notices to those affected by the hazard. This can be done through the use of emails, text messages, telephone, loudspeakers, sirens, television, radio, etc.

There are two types of emergency notification software; those that are triggered automatically by detecting danger signals (for example, variations in a seismograph) and those that are triggered by a user. In the case of the latter, they are designed to start up in the shortest time and with the least possible configuration.

Uses of the software for emergency notification

  • Essential equipment outage as electrical generators or essential medical equipment for the maintenance of life.
  • Changes in atmospheric conditions that could involve danger.
  • Leak of toxic substances.
  • Leakage in nuclear plants.
  • Security issues physical and virutal.
  • Accident Insurance in means of transport.

One might believe (in fact it was my case when I started researching for the article) that this type of program would only be useful for government agencies related to disaster management. However, its use goes much further:

  • Organizations in general: There are a number of people from which, calling one by one is not fast enough. And sending a WhatsApp message manually to a group may not be practical.
  • Hospitals: The Coronavirus epidemic gives us a good example of the usefulness of this type of program. If a positive case is detected from a patient who was not properly isolated, the system can warn patients with scheduled appointments not to show up and ask those who were in contact to self-quarantine.
  • Factories: Many companies use dangerous inputs that can quickly cause disasters. The emergency alert allows the rapid adoption of established containment protocols.
  • Distribution chains: In many countries we are seeing increase in the demand for various products as part of the anxiety caused by government measures. This can lead to some kind of stock-out. Alert systems enable manufacturers and distributors to find out about the needs of retailers. It will also allow them to respond to the decrease in demand that will result in a return to normality or measures against squatting.

Characteristics of a good emergency notification system

To be able to meet your goals, emergency notification systems must meet the following characteristics:

  1. Speed: When a few seconds can make the difference between life and death, speed is the critical performance. The alert should reach its recipient as soon as possible.
  2. Management of multiple communication channels: In an emergency, land lines are not likely to work, and cell towers are. In the case of power failure, the opposite occurs. Perhaps it may be that the recipient is not listening to the phone because he is very entertained by watching television. A good alert system must have the ability to send a message by alternative means.
  3. Intelligent management of recipients: An effective alert must get the right message to the right recipients.
  4. Track and locate on a map: Many times, the way to determine who to alert is by their location.
  5. Two way communication: People who receive the alert may have questions not covered by the message or be able to provide additional information. That is why the program must allow two-way communication.

In the next article we will review some open source projects for the creation of an emergency alert system.


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