Mobile Media Technologies LLC – Parkville
Emergency-response officials in Atchison County, Mo., faced a major crisis last summer with record flooding on the Missouri River.
Their response may have set a record for the creative use of modern communication techniques, including a cutting-edge mobile broadcast system called TextCaster.
“I can’t imagine working a disaster without it,” says Rhonda Wiley, Atchison County emergency management director. “It is quick, simple and easy to use.”
Wiley covers a county of approximately 5,500 people and 550 square miles. In her seven years as emergency manager and 911 director, she’s found efficient technology to be a key. Recently developed technology such as Facebook and, especially, TextCaster are good examples.
The system has been greatly enhanced when it comes to communicating with large numbers of people through a system called TextCaster.
Though less well known than Facebook, TextCaster uses text messages, voice, email, and mobile Web or Web syndication to instantly send messages to a large group. Wiley so far has focused on text messages to cell phone users.
“I have sent out alerts for levee breaches while standing right on the levee,” she recalls. “Our citizens have grown accustomed to TextCaster and have relied on it heavily. In addition to being a powerful communication tool for both pre- and post-emergency events, it’s also quite affordable.”
Wiley adds her own creativity to expand on that. The system’s texts are limited to 120 characters, so for longer messages she’ll link a text to the emergency system’s Facebook page where she can post additional details.
Wiley learned of TextCaster last year through the local Rock Port School District. By the time last year’s record flooding began, the county had its own system in place.
“We were trying out different programs, and we heard Rock Port schools were using TextCaster,” she recalled. “Now, it’s part of everything we do. It’s become a process in our daily operations, from reminding people of daily briefings, to putting out public safety alerts.”
The process works much like group email messages. Wiley collected cell phone numbers for key emergency personnel. Another group included residents of floodprone areas. She also maintains a group for the media, so she cuts down on calls for information and possible misinformation. To send a message, she simply gets on her computer. Using TextCaster, everyone in a group or groups receives the message instantly on their cell phones.
“This summer I ran the EOC (emergency operations center) out of my truck,” she said. “I could be on a levee or where a highway was being flooded. I’d just pull out my laptop, put in the air card and start broadcasting.”
One example involved a broken levee that didn’t flood when it collapsed on itself and shut off the water. Although the National Weather Service was warning of a levee breach, Wiley was on the scene and sent her constituents the correct information.
“That was on a Sunday, and there was a church just downstream,” she recalled. “Someone stuck their head in the door and yelled, ‘You’ve got to get out! The water is on the way!’ But the mayor was there, and he’d received my TextCast. He knew everything was okay. They went back into church.”
Other uses included calls for volunteers to help with sandbagging, something that was also used in 2010 with the school’s system.
“That’s what impressed me,” she recalled. “You’d send out an alert and before you know it, people are showing up.”
Some applications are less dramatic, though still important.
“Yesterday, we had a meeting for property owners, and we sent out a notice on TextCaster,” she said. “We’re starting a new group for people who live in the country, and if we have a report of cattle out, we can broadcast that. It beats the heck out of calling 40 people.”
Wiley believes uses of TextCasting are almost unlimited, and they have become indispensible for her. “We just don’t have that many people so this is huge,” she concluded. “We couldn’t do without it now.”
SBTDC helps TextCaster inventor get mobile technology business off the ground
Rob Sweeney, inventor of the TextCaster technology, worked with the SBTDC at University of Central Missouri to patent his invention and develop a marketing plan focused on schools, media and providers of emergency services.
“Rob is a great entrepreneur and has built a nice business around this technology, but Rob has always been about giving back and using the Textcaster technology to save lives,” says Mark Manley, former director of UCM SBTDC. “Use of the TextCaster technology in times of emergency will save lives and will help business owners in areas impacted by emergencies minimize business disruption.”
Sweeney’s business, Mobile Media Technologies LLC, is located in Parkville, Mo.
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