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  • DC Emergency Alert System

       October 04, 2004

    While riding the Metro today, I noticed an advertisement for a new DC emergency alert service at I was able to go to that website, create an account, log in, and then select a number of neighborhoods that I'm interested in receiving alerts about. The alerts are then sent to my mobile phone via text messaging, and a copy is sent to me via email as well.

    While the effectiveness of this service is yet unknown, I have to say that I'm a bit impressed that Washington, a city notorious for its inefficiency, redundancy, failure, and waste, managed to put together such a slick system. If nothing else, it strikes me that this system is likely at the leading edge of tomorrow's emergency alert systems, and its success or failure of it will be closely monitored by other cities looking to implement a similar system.

    When signing up for the service, I was asked "Are you a medical professional willing to donate your services in the event of an emergency," and "Do you have a 4 wheel drive vehicle that you'd be willing to volunteer in an emergency?" This got me thinking that this could be a whole new approach to not only emergency management services, but to other services as well. Consider the following ideas:

    1. Today's cell phones can be triangulated and their positions known within a few meters. How about using this feature to send alerts to subscribers based on their location? i.e. "a bomb threat was just called in to the building you're standing in front of."

    2. Taking that a step further, why give information about only threats? If the lady in the apartment next to mine has a heart attack and calls 911, this system could alert subscribers within 100 yards of her, or subscribers in this building. Of course, the alert could be narrowed and sent to only a subset of people, i.e. only to medical professionals.

    3. This system could be used to track criminals as well - say the bank down the street from me is robbed. A smart enough system could send alerts out to people that are near possible escape routes. These people could then carefully observe passers by, or even take out a video camera, in the event that the criminal passes by.

    4. How about "person specific" alerts? You could go to the website and enter a list of names. If that person were to be the victim of an emergency, you would be notified.

    And on and on. I realize that some of the above ideas come with a lot of auxillary concerns, i.e. privacy issues, feasibility issues, overuse issues, etc. But it's an interesting topic to think about. In today's interconnected and technological society, we have a lot more options than our forefathers had. Some of the more novel or even "wacky" ideas will invariably become the standard technology of tomorrow.

    Or could it be that D.C. is just trying to collect information about where the SUVs are so that they can be easily confiscated, much like the mass German-run firearm confiscations of WWII? While I do think that might be a little extreme, even for D.C., I wouldn't put anything past this city. After all, they've surprised me in the past. ;-)

    Posted by jkhat at October 4, 2004 09:20 PM

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    #  March 7th, 2005 6:48 PM      Converted_Comment
    Converted comment: Posted by: kris at October 5, 2004 01:23 AM

    while i'm sure this *could* be used in any number of interesting ways what's really going to happen is that you're going to get a bunch of alerts whenever there's more than an inch of snow because you have an SUV. Have fun!




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