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California to Invest in the Public

May 11, 2007

According to a report in the Tri-Valley Herald, the state of California is building out plans to alert the public in the event of a crisis. Now this is seriously cool:

[A]uthorities are planning to use cell phone towers to broadcast tone and text warnings of imminent dangers to all cell phones and Blackberry-type devices in a specific zone. For example, the phone would emit a sound unlike the usual ring followed by a written message appearing on the screen.

No need for maintaining a database, or only being able to contact residents who might out of town, while ignoring guests and out-of-towners who wouldn’t be signed up to receive such alerts. Just letting everyone in a specified area know, “Hey, something’s up. Act accordingly.” I love this idea. There is, of course, some worry about the structural integrity of the cell phone and tower infrastructure in a disaster; and not everyone has a cell phone. But given the growing ubiquity of cell phones and the resulting coverage areas of cell phone towers I think that these sticking points will grow smaller and smaller over time.

Another really interesting note that is made in the article is that the California state government is working hand-in-hand with the federal government on this project:

Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, who sits on the state Emergency Council, told lawmakers at an information-gathering hearing that California is working alongside U.S. agencies that are developing a federal alert system via cell phone but is ready to proceed without them.

“If history is an indicator, the federal government will not act as quickly as we can in California,” said Garamendi, who served in the Clinton administration.

Keep an eye out for this nationally, and in the next 12 – 14 months in California.

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