Web alarms, mobile alerts aim to make you safer
By Michele Gershberg
From emergency message networks that can reach 100,000 people within
minutes, to alarm systems that allow you to monitor your home over the
Web, new technologies are aiming to make U.S. consumers feel safer.
While institutions such as immigration services, banks and credit card
companies continue to improve their systems to prevent fraud or theft,
in many cases homeowners and their communities haven't kept pace.
That's starting to change -- but, unfortunately, it often takes a
major disaster or tragedy to get people thinking about how to better
protect themselves and their families.
Many new security technologies have sprouted as a result of the
September 11, 2001, attacks in the United States.
The deadly rampage by a lone gunman that claimed 32 lives at Virginia
Tech university last month brought renewed attention to a wave of
companies offering the latest technology to keep people informed, and
"It's probably one of the most backward industries in the United
States today," said Vincent Tedesco, chief executive of Total Computer
Group (TCG), referring to security technologies for identifying
criminals. His company builds software applications for law
TCG is trying to remedy the situation with software that helps give
police departments rapid access to crime records via a handheld-device
linked to a Microsoft-supported database.
TCG's system could clue-in police, in the course of a routine identity
check, whether they are dealing with someone who has a criminal
"Mohammed Atta was pulled over (while driving) in Florida and he had
no license," Tedesco said, referring to one of the September 11
suicide plane hijackers. "If that officer had this product he would
have known this guy was on the FBI terrorist list."
In the last few months alone, TCG has reached deals with 58 police
departments in Pennsylvania and 20 new departments in New York state.
The company is also in talks with authorities in the United Kingdom
and with the Sultan of Brunei.
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The Virginia Tech tragedy has spawned interest in ways to alert large
groups of people of an unfolding crisis, whether by phone, text
message or email.
"Everyone is becoming much more aware that there's technology out
there in a situation where you want to get an urgent message out,"
said Mike Taylor, vice president of marketing for Honeywell Building
"Until you have a crisis, the sense of urgency around doing something
with it just isn't there," he said.
Honeywell recently upgraded a system used by schools to meet the needs
of universities in alerting students to potential danger. The Instant
Alert Plus technology can make 100,000 30-second phone calls and send
125,000 text messages within 15 minutes.
While that may be more than enough to cover a campus from students to
faculty, employees and parents, the system could eventually cover much
larger communities or entire cities.
"The good thing is this a very scalable system," said Taylor. "I'm
sure we could add capacity if we had the need to do one million
(alerts) in 15 minutes."
Such mass communication methods can be used for anything from
notifying chemical plant employees of a leak to mundane matters like
informing parents about a school meeting.
"In a Michigan school district, it was used to make parents aware that
a man was posing as a policeman with a badge and walking up to
students and asking to rifle through their schoolbags," Taylor said.
InGrid, a company that has developed a Web-accessible home security
system, is mindful of the dual nature of systems meant to warn and
communicate at the same time.
The company's technology is based on wireless sensors placed at many
points inside a home that are linked to both a handheld device and a
password-protected Web site.
The sensors provide real-time information not only on whether the
house is safe from burglars, but whether children, parents or
babysitters have entered the premises using their passcodes.
A newer application being developed by the company could help
customers keep tabs on elderly parents from work or another location,
hooking up to a medicine cabinet to make sure they are properly cared
"Once we have a system in the house, it provides a very efficient
platform for collecting data of all sorts," said InGrid founder and
Chief Executive Louis Stilp. "If your parents are living independently
at home and no one has opened the refrigerator door today until 2
p.m., there might be a problem."
Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: In a smaller town like ours, these
systems seem to work the best. Consider last night (Friday) for
example, when the (very vicious, very extreme) tornado swooped down in
Greensburg, KS about a hundred miles west of here. We have not had one
_that bad_ since three years ago when the twister did much damage to
the town of Parsons, KS which is northwest of here about twenty miles.
About 10:00 pm, the sirens began going off, and police took over our
cable system to announce, 'just testing, stand by for any emergency
instructions'. More or less immediatly they put a weather forecaster
on the screen with a map showing the approaching storm and discussing
it, but cautioning us, 'no need to seek shelter as of yet.' When the
tornado actually touched down in Greensburg, we were much relieved,
needless to say. Sad for those people, obviously, but pleased that we
here had missed another one. Independence has been around for about
150 years, and I am told we have never yet been hit by a tornado,
possibly because our town is in a valley (although _my house_ is on
the side of a hill within that valley.) So, we are relatively safe
from flooding (Verdigris River runs through town) and, it would seem
safe from tornados since nothing is sticking up in the air. But these
'reverse-911' style systems seem to work very well around here.
They did not have a 'reverse 911' type system in effect when Parsons
got hit three years ago in the storm which blew down the city hall/
police/fire building and many other structures. On that night, only
those of us who like to listen to police scanners got any advance
notice (over here) that something was going on, when we heard the
Independence and Parsons dispatchers talking about it and our force
going over there to help them out. PAT]