Earlier this month, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), headquartered in Framingham, began using a new first-in-the-nation emergency alerting app as part of its notifications to the public.
Created by a firm in Nashua, NH, Ping4alerts! is a free mobile communications app, that can alert individuals about public safety and public health emergencies.
Hurricane Sandy will give the app its first big test.
MEMA contracted with the New Hampshire company to provide the service to the public. The service is 100 percent anonymous. Mobile numbers or email addresses are not required and the company does not retain information on its users, said CEO and President James Bender.
Through geofencing technology, Ping4alerts! enables MEMA to send highly targeted, instant multimedia alerts to iPhone and Android devices to notify individuals to situations and events happening near them.
Users also get voice audible alerts, which can wake them up, if an emergency happens while they are sleeping, Bender said. Alerts can include images, video, maps and links to important information, said Bender
Ping4Alerts! has the ability for two-way communication.
Ping4Alerts! can be downloaded at www.mass.gov/mema/mobileapp.
One of the advantages of the Ping4Alerts! is that MEMA has the ability to target alerts to a specific location, down to a street or a city block, or a whole community or the entire Commonwealth.
What makes this useful is that the alerts do not stop at city or town borders. For example, if there was a gas leak in Framingham on the Natick line, Framingham residents may receive a reverse 911 call but Natick residents would not. Ping4Alerts - could be issued to everyone who downloaded the app, if they're in the area.
This alert would be extremely useful for college campuses and large gatherings. For example, if there was a chemical spill near Bowditch Field on a Friday night when a Flyers football game was happening, Framingham residents who signed up would receive a reverse 9-1-1 but the opposing teams' fans would not. Using the Ping4Alerts! anyone in that area would receive an alert.
Another example would be on a college campus, where there are students, staff, commuters and visitors at any given time, but not all are connected into an alert system. Using the Ping4Alerts! means everyone can be notified of an emergency situation at the same time, said Bender.
This new smartphone app is just another tool MEMA can use in emergencies in addition it it public alerting system, which includes radio and television alerts through the Emergency Alert System, the Mass211 system, and posts to MEMA’s Twitter and Facebook accounts.