GSS offers new, FM-based emergency communication solution

Published 17 March 2006

Mississippi knows a thing or two about disasters and about the peril of lack of communication during disasters. A couple of weeks ago, Mississippi State Homeland Security awarded Lafayette, Louisiana-based Global Security Systems (GS) a $1.6 million contract to develop the statewide emergency alert system. The system would make it possible for text messages to be sent over Mississippi Public Broadcasting’s FM radio signals to first responders. Mississippi would be the first state with such a system.

Matthew Straeb, executive vice president of GSS, said the messages would be sent through FM broadcasters, which he said are more durable during natural disasters than satellite and cellular communications. “Most of the stations were up and running during Katrina,” he said. “The FM broadcasters came through quite nicely. It’s a very robust infrastructure.”

GSS plans to use a standard commercial FM receiver chip which can be inserted into pagers, smoke detectors, cell phones, PDAs, and other devices to allow them to receive the messages. The technology will be primarily for first responders now, but in the future may well be adapted to send messages to any device with a digital display, even a microwave oven. Straeb said GSS was working with major manufacturers of cell phones and other devices to have compatible microchips installed during manufacturing. “You can get up-to-date, real-time messages from the people that you know — Homeland Security, FEMA, the police department, fire department, NOAA — all the different agencies that have the information,” Straeb said. “Instead of using half a tank of gas trying to find an open station (after a storm) I could get a message that says, ‘Hey, there’s gas at this station’ or ‘there’s water at this site.’ All those little things make a big difference in those emergency situations.”

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