NASA Links IP and Emergency Notification

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NASA fullwhite cropped.jpgI caught up last week with Alan Mather, chief of NASA's Protective Services Division at the Johnson Space Center here in Houston, to talk about network-centric emergency communications.

JSC has been using an IWSAlerts software system from AtHoc for about one year. The system allows emergency communications to be sent in numerous ways from a central point, combining mass notification methods--TV, digital signage and big voice--with personal communications methods, such as email, text messaging and phone calls. Other companies in this space include Mir3 and Space Age Electronics.

Network-based mass notification has become one of the fastest growing applications involving physical and IP convergence, especially in work or educational campus environments, where large numbers of employees, contractors and visitors are spread over a large area at all hours.   

JSC is NASA's center for human spaceflight activities. Communications, command and control for the International Space Station and all Space Shuttle missions are managed from the center, as is astronaut training and general study and engineering for current and future human space flight. The center consists of a complex of some 100 buildings, including a popular visitors center, constructed on 1,620 acres. On any given day there are 13,000 to 15,000 people onsite.

The AtHoc system, which JSC has christened internally as Systematic Recall & Emergency Notification (SyREN), replaced a proprietary system that sent notifications exclusively through e-mail. The limitations of that system came into play in an April 2007 incident involving a gunman on the JSC campus. After that, Mather said, NASA and JSC began to look for systems that brought together other notification mechanisms. "We wanted to be able to go beyond e-mail," he said. "We had to look at what the expectation [for notification] was. If I'm away from my desk I still need to be informed."

The SyREN system sends voice notices to landline phones, voice and text messages to any IP devices, including wireless phones and PDAs, as well as PC-based e-mail. Recipients are prompted to acknowledge the message, giving security staff immediate feedback to how many people have gotten word. In addition, the same message is directed to signage and JSC's campus cable TV channel. Personal messages may direct recipients to web pages for additional information. During Hurricane Ike last September, messages were linked to weather-related web sites, Mather said. The entire system can be managed from a single console he added and announcements and advisories can be pre-loaded.

IWS Alerts "leverages existing infrastructure and the IP network," said Ly Tran, vice president AtHoc. It interfaces with [employee and personnel] databases to create a 'most-current' contact list." NASA represents just one of AtHoc's major government contracts. Other agencies include the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy's Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection. Universities using AtHoc include UCLA and Texas A&M.

AtHoc servers can support a large number of outbound calls, but as the scale of mass notification grow, reach has become as important as speed, if not more.  

"Speed isn't going to solve the reach problem. Redundancy is more important," Tran said. "I've got siren, broadcast, phone calls and text. I'm not counting on just one medium."

Query: How large must emergency notifications system scale? Which gets priority, speed or reach?

 



NASA fullwhite cropped.jpgI caught up last week with Alan Mather, chief of NASA's Protective Services Division at the Johnson Space Center here in Houston, to talk about network-centric emergency communications.

JSC has been using an IWSAlerts software system from AtHoc for about one year. The system allows emergency communications to be sent in numerous ways from a central point, combining mass notification methods--TV, digital signage and big voice--with personal communications methods, such as email, text messaging and phone calls. Other companies in this space include Mir3 and Space Age Electronics.

Network-based mass notification has become one of the fastest growing applications involving physical and IP convergence, especially in work or educational campus environments, where large numbers of employees, contractors and visitors are spread over a large area at all hours.   

JSC is NASA's center for human spaceflight activities. Communications, command and control for the International Space Station and all Space Shuttle missions are managed from the center, as is astronaut training and general study and engineering for current and future human space flight. The center consists of a complex of some 100 buildings, including a popular visitors center, constructed on 1,620 acres. On any given day there are 13,000 to 15,000 people onsite.

The AtHoc system, which JSC has christened internally as Systematic Recall & Emergency Notification (SyREN), replaced a proprietary system that sent notifications exclusively through e-mail. The limitations of that system came into play in an April 2007 incident involving a gunman on the JSC campus. After that, Mather said, NASA and JSC began to look for systems that brought together other notification mechanisms. "We wanted to be able to go beyond e-mail," he said. "We had to look at what the expectation [for notification] was. If I'm away from my desk I still need to be informed."

The SyREN system sends voice notices to landline phones, voice and text messages to any IP devices, including wireless phones and PDAs, as well as PC-based e-mail. Recipients are prompted to acknowledge the message, giving security staff immediate feedback to how many people have gotten word. In addition, the same message is directed to signage and JSC's campus cable TV channel. Personal messages may direct recipients to web pages for additional information. During Hurricane Ike last September, messages were linked to weather-related web sites, Mather said. The entire system can be managed from a single console he added and announcements and advisories can be pre-loaded.

IWS Alerts "leverages existing infrastructure and the IP network," said Ly Tran, vice president AtHoc. It interfaces with [employee and personnel] databases to create a 'most-current' contact list." NASA represents just one of AtHoc's major government contracts. Other agencies include the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy's Anti-Terrorism/Force Protection. Universities using AtHoc include UCLA and Texas A&M.

AtHoc servers can support a large number of outbound calls, but as the scale of mass notification grow, reach has become as important as speed, if not more.  

"Speed isn't going to solve the reach problem. Redundancy is more important," Tran said. "I've got siren, broadcast, phone calls and text. I'm not counting on just one medium."

Query: How large must emergency notifications system scale? Which gets priority, speed or reach?

 



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