Applied Technology: GSS Alert FM

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FM radio-based alert and messaging systems enable emergency management personnel to create and send radio data alerts and messages to targeted recipients. The single-point to multi-point messaging functionality utilizes the overlapping data signal of existing FM stations to provide redundant emergency notification capability. These systems can deliver emergency information through FM data subcarriers, SMS (text messaging) to mobile phones, and e-mail. They are a great complement to outdoor warning sirens or telephone-based mass notification systems whose performance can be adversely affected by clogging and power outages, which occur in emergencies. FM radio-based alert systems can distribute messages received countywide in less than 60 seconds.

Dedicated receivers like this wall-mount unit can provide FM-based emergency alerts.

Dedicated receivers like this wall-mount unit can provide FM-based emergency alerts.

Message origination and system administration is handled through a Web-based portal, which can be accessed via any secure Internet connection. The portal allows the users to create groups and subgroups based on geographic or organizational classification. Messages can be pre-scripted or canned as well as custom-made. The portal also features the history of all messages including the sender, specific content, time and date stamp, and destination. An automated data feed for National Weather Service warnings mean users can program their receivers to get these local weather warnings.

All FM radio-based alert systems servers are hosted in reputable, third-party data hosting centers and accessible by secure login. Data is backed up each night using a third-party data archiving service. These systems feature data communications using satellites in addition to terrestrial Internet, which allows for full system operations even if power is interrupted at the emergency operations center or at an FM transmitter. This satellite data transmission between the servers and the FM stations also adds a security layer to the system. The entire system is closed between the administrative portal, where the data is entered, and the receivers.

The FM chip

Alerts can also be received on portable devices with FM receivers.

Alerts can also be received on portable devices with FM receivers.

The FM chip is one key to interoperability. This single-to-multi-point radio broadcast system uses the Radio Broadcast Data System (RBDS) subcarrier datacasting, layered in need-to-know groupings based on an existing communication infrastructure — the country's nationwide FM broadcasting network. Targeted alerts and messages are delivered by satellite to FM transmission towers and can be received on Alert FM receivers and other mobile devices. Millions of Americans, including countless first-responders and public safety workers, have the potential to receive alerts and time critical information with the activation of the standard FM chip.

Most people are still surprised when cell networks cannot handle the extra load during emergencies. The reality is that cell phone networks are switched (point-to-point) and were not designed to handle the loads put on them today. Even more alarming is the lack of awareness that wireless carriers have the potential to further safeguard individuals and communities with the activation of a standard FM receiver chip that exists in most cellular handsets today, which is capable of receiving personal alert messages from a standard FM radio tower used to listen to your favorite music. This capability can be used while not interfering with normal cell phone usage.

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