Local residents, businesses and the university community participated in a training session last Friday that marked the first step in building a community-wide emergency alert and preparedness network in Georgetown.

The network will be tested during a month-long pilot project in cooperation with Roam Secure, Inc., an Arlington-based company that has developed a communications program called the Roam Secure Alert Network. Although the network is being used successfully in several organizations elsewhere, this will be one of its first uses on a community-wide basis.

“Citizens register for the system and select the modes of electronic communication in which they can be contacted such as cell phone, e-mail, blackberry, pagers or palm pilots,” Justin Wagner (COL ’03), an administrator for the pilot project, said. “In the unfortunate event of an emergency, this technology allows for the dissemination of thousands of electronic communications in less than a minute.” Wagner is also an ANC representative in District 2E and sits on THE HOYA Editorial Board.

The goal of RSAN is to deliver tens of thousands of notifications in fewer than two minutes. Because the system is built using a web-based interface, it allows for remote message generation from any Internet connection or mobile device.

Messages can be targeted to the most affected subgroups, such as all residents of a particular block, all office workers or all students at a particular school. Dispatchers include government authorities, community system administrators and selected users.

Currently, the network is used by the government, business and emergency services including the D.C. Emergency Management Agency, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments and Arlington County to coordinate resources and ensure public safety in the event of crime, traffic accidents or disasters such as a terrorist attack.

“Because the system is wireless – it functions on e-mail and PDA [palm pilot network] – it is more reliable than telephones, especially when things get jammed, as we saw in New York on Sept. 11,” Dan Gadra, general counsel and director of communications for Roam Secure, Inc., said.

Georgetown residents and community associations have been eager to implement a system in order to receive alerts in the event of an emergency, according to Gadra. “The residents in Georgetown are proactive about most things, and Arlington and Fairfax have these systems, and [Georgetown residents] have been asking, `Where is ours?'” Gadra said. “And now members of business and the community have gotten together to do something.”

Wagner remains optimistic that the success of the pilot program in Georgetown, which includes 300 community members, will lead to the implementation of the program campus-wide. Nearly 30 university students and administrators are involved, including members of the GU Emergency Response Team, GERMS, representatives from University Information Services and the Office of Student Affairs.

“Depending on the success of the pilot, I would hope that in the future we would be able to expand the network to the entire community, including the campus,” Wagner said. “A number of students are enrolled in the program as well as administrators and people in UIS. We are also making an effort to get DPS [Department of Public Safety] involved. So the university community is definitely getting involved.”

Gadra and Wagner agreed that RSAN could improve public safety in the community and on campus.

“Georgetown University could be on the forefront of getting emergency alerts delivered on a wireless network for its students,” Gadra said.

“If implemented properly, this technology has the ability to revolutionize public safety and emergency preparedness in our community,” Wagner added. “The goal of the technology is simple – to save lives and get accurate information out to the public in the event of an emergency.”

Wagner said that the future of the community-wide network hinges on the success of the current pilot project, which will conclude in early January.

“The hope is if this goes well in the pilot project, we will be able to reach out to the entire university community as well as the greater neighborhood area, which has 16,000 residents in the immediate vicinity in addition to [those] who come to work in the area,” he said. “This is a very powerful tool which has the capability to get out information and possibly save lives.”

Several local organizations have worked to bring the technology to Georgetown, including representatives of ANC 2E, the Burleith Citizens Association, the Hillandale Homeowners Association, the Citizens Association of Georgetown, the Georgetown Partnership, Georgetown University Hospital and Georgetown University. In addition, the D.C. Department of Transportation and the etropolitan Police will be linked to the system.

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