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Globaltel Media’s text messaging for public safety

Written by Kevin Gordon

What if your agency could send two-way text messaging in real time, for both emergency response and general housekeeping, back and forth messages using the existing agency and/or personal cellular phones of the employees, without any special plans or additional equipment? Consider being able to use your PC or phone to send an overtime opportunity to every involved employee at the same time and later have a report in hand showing who received it, when they received it, and how, when and if they responded. Or the ability to send an emergency notification with confirmations so you know who is en route, where they are, estimated times of arrival, etc. Now consider that the system is as easy as sending a text message, all startup training is provided, and it’s free to public safety.

Most of us realize how common texting has become. Even those of us who were convinced we would never have reason to text, find ourselves texting. According to Nielsen Mobile, text messages have now surpassed voice calls, reporting that during the second quarter of 2008, a typical U.S. mobile subscriber placed or received 204 phone calls per month. In comparison, the average mobile customer sent or received 357 text messages per month. Although public safety finds itself a latecomer to the use of texting, the potential of its many uses ensures its future with public safety.

According to Robert Sanchez, CEO at Globaltel Media, “Our patent-pending ability to send rich video content as a text message opens up endless uses, from entertainment to marketing and customer relations, to healthcare and emergency response applications. We provide a reliable way to deliver instructional, entertaining or even life-saving video content to targeted mobile recipients, and then engage in interactive dialog. What we do, for public safety specifically, we do for free and we do it for any public safety agency. Simply because it helps them, it supports them, and we appreciate them.” Globaltel Media, headquartered in San Diego, is the first company to provide true two-way text dialog with rich media from any PC to any mobile phone and back regardless of the wireless technology, wireless operator or wireless device. “We use nothing but text technology to deliver messaging to any cell phone in the United States, and more than that, we have the ability to get responses back from people and collect them freeform,” Sanchez said.

The patent-pending SMS Messaging Solution provides enriched text dialog from any online computer to any number of cell phones regardless of the carrier, device or wireless technology. Globaltel Media offers several business solutions including the Mobile Campaign Manager™ and Alirti™. These are designed to assist agencies and companies, large or small, in extending their market reach and engaging in interactive dialog with all mobile partners utilizing managed, two-way SMS text messaging. On the road to providing these services to the business world, Globaltel Media realized how useful and effective these services were for all areas of public safety including police, fire and EMS. Sanchez estimates that about 70% of the firefighters in the United States are volunteers. A small agency with a matching small budget has less and less resources to operate with, and even a simple notification of volunteer fire personnel requires the purchase of a pager or radio of some sort. “Instead of the agency trying to purchase and maintain these pagers or radios, each firefighter could be reached by a text message to his own cell phone. The text can provide whatever information the agency wishes,” Sanchez added.

In the case of the Ventura County, CA Fire Department, the text included the incident, location with cross street, and Thomas Guide information. Steve Francis, Fire Department Battalion Chief with over 26 years of experience stated, “Using Globaltel Media technologies can save us radio costs, reduce communication complexity, and increase reliability. Every firefighter carries a cellular phone and using text messaging to contact them AND get a real-time response is invaluable. The ability to also send images or videos securely is tremendous.” This can benefit any public safety agency but especially volunteer fire departments across the country. Francis believes seeing is believing and suggests that any interested agency should text “FD RS001” to 53137 and they will see how the technology can be used to alert firefighters of traffic incidents.

Sanchez elaborated: “In the public safety vein a couple of things happen here. From a phone or PC we are able to initiate these alerts real time to the telecommunicator, to staff, volunteers, you name it. They all have personal phones. So if we are able to deliver this kind of information to them immediately with content instead of to a pager that you have to call in to find out what’s going on, we have saved them time and money. And if, for example, you are not able to respond to it or are delayed, we have real-time information back and forth using existing cellular phones, without any special plans, other than having text messaging on your phone, to support the fire department or any kind of public safety.”

The uses by a small agency are limited only by their imagination. As about 60% of the 18,000 police agencies in America are small, having less than 10 officers, so are their budgets and their equipment purchases. Available for almost all emergency response applications from the initial emergency notifications to the incident end, with one message any and all personnel, on-duty, off-duty, administrative, etc., can be sent the same message at the same time. Each can send a reply if needed such as ETA or equipment needed, etc. During an incident when you have folks everywhere, blocking intersections here, towing vehicles over there, canvassing the area down the street, it’s a simple one-step system to send all a message or update at the same time.

Many agencies utilize some form of Major Case Squad. Normally activated for an area homicide, it can bring together scores of detectives from as many agencies in a short period. Consider the advantage of being able to communicate immediately with all those detectives with no concern of different radio frequencies. Imagine being able to immediately view a report showing who received the call, etc. This could be anything from investigation direction or updates such as “suspect in custody” to housekeeping items such as “lunch is set up at ABC Restaurant” or “daily reports due at 1800.”

Beyond Texting

Other emergency response applications beyond general notification include the sending of evacuation maps and directions, crime scene images and investigative information and instructions. Any incident communication can be sent with immediate confirmations. The chief of a small agency could immediately notify the entire city council or public utility emergency workers or Community Emergency Response Teams with one message. Again, covering anything from “come to the disaster” to “tonight’s meeting cancelled.” How about notifying all the area school principals at the same time with one message about a problem in town, possible suspect info, or a water boil order. Again, the uses are unlimited. Sanchez agrees that while full emergency responses don’t happen too often at many agencies, this communication system isn’t just limited to emergencies but day-to-day communications. “We can also support delivering video, pictures and audio, but that requires a higher level phone at the user end,” according to Sanchez. Using jpgs or bitmaps, a user can attach a picture, similar to how he would with an e-mail, and can browse for that picture from any location, PC, server or online storage. Globaltel Media stores all their data on secure servers and presently utilizes Amazon Web services as the hosting facility.

Sanchez stressed the privacy concerns: “This is real-time, two-way communication that is fully auditable, HIPA compliant for privacy, and easily structured to be compliant with Freedom of Information requests. We require all users to sign an end user agreement, which protects privacy issues. Since we are sending messages, in many cases, to private citizen numbers, they as the end user, have to review it and agree to it. It also protects the user and ensures his information is not shared. Globaltel Media cannot share or sell the information, or pass it on in anyway to others.”

Presently Globaltel Media has 16 short codes approved on all the carriers. For those not familiar, this means you send your text to a several-digit number when you communicate. This ensures that the user will never receive anything unsolicited but text (no advertising and the like).

“We presently run 250,000 to 300,000 messages out of our system every day and every one comes out with a report that shows if it was delivered, the phone numbers, delivery times, received time and responses. A standard report is available to the agency and costs them nothing,” Sanchez noted. The report also provides an immediate notification if a phone number was rejected. Since cell numbers can now be moved from carrier to carrier, this hasn’t been the issue it was in the past, but many employees still forget to notify the agency of a changed number.

While each agency does many of the same tasks, each agency is still unique and its needs are unique. But most, if not all, can benefit from text messaging two-way communications. Sanchez stressed that Globaltel Media provides all this including the training, free to public safety. It is easy to set up and easy to use.

Kevin Gordon spent 25 years in law enforcement and retired as a chief of police. He holds an MA in security management, and is a CEM and a CPP. He is a national and regional officer of the International Police Association. He can be reached at kevin@kgordon.com.

Published in Public Safety IT, Jan/Feb 2010

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