Fla. Red Cross automates communications

As it waited for Tropical Storm Ernesto to make landfall last week, the American Red Cross of Central Florida used an emergency notification service from MessageOne to automate communications with some 1,500 on-call volunteers, according to Chad Magnuson, assistant director of preparedness and response for the Florida chapter.

AlertFind is a crisis management and communications tool from Austin-based MessageOne.

"What used to take 20 volunteers and a few days to do can now take one person typing in an announcement and one person monitoring the results," Magnuson said. "We can mobilize the 1,500 or so volunteers much quicker, using a lot less resources. We would have a number of volunteers come into our office, and we would have lists of people to call, and we'd just divide up the list and make a telephone call to them."

Last week, the Central Florida chapter successfully tested the system with some of its leadership volunteers to alert them to be ready for any local problems caused by Ernesto, he said.

The AlertFind service allows the Red Cross to quickly reach thousands of volunteers simultaneously with important messages. With one phone call or e-mail message to start the process, AlertFind automatically sends out thousands of emergency alerts or instructions to designated recipients about a crisis situation.

As for last week's use, the Red Cross was able to rapidly send information to its volunteers, and with the system's two-way communication feature, organization leaders were assured that the messages had been delivered and acknowledged by recipients, according to the statement.

If the first method of contact does not work, the system automatically tries alternates set by the individual, such as a home phone, cell phone, e-mail address, wireless e-mail device or a pager, MessageOne said.

"AlertFind is fairly new to our chapter. We just got on board with it in August in terms of using the system," Magnuson said. "Last week was the first time we put it into any type of action because of Tropical Storm Ernesto.

"Initially, we used it to send some test alerts to our disaster leadership so they'd be familiar with the system," he said. "We activated the AlertFind system and notified the volunteers [for] Tropical Storm Ernesto that we would be opening up our disaster operations center at a particular time. Just a very limited number of people received that alert. Then we alerted our leadership and our key volunteers that we were standing down our operation for Ernesto."

For future emergencies, the chapter plans to activate several hundred volunteers via AlertFind, Magnuson said.

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