City looks at emergency communications system

SASKATOON – When disaster strikes, a lack of communication can intensify a bad situation and the city of Saskatoon would like to have more immediate contact with its residents.

Saskatoon’s Emergency Measures Organization wants the city to spend $36,300 to purchase that direct contact. According to EMO Coordinator Ray Unrau, the new system would have several communication options.

“Text messaging, e-mail, landline, cell phone any combination thereof” touts Unrau.

The system is called Everbridge and was used successfully as a communication tool during the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Sandy and the Boston bombing.

Residents register their phone numbers for free, enabling the city to notify them of an emergency situation via text message.

The city has been communicating with residents through public service announcements (PSA) issued to the media and through social media but using only these measures, the city is not in compliance with the standards set by the National Fire Protection Association.

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“We’d still issue PSA’s, we’d still depend on the media but this gives us the opportunity, for example, to communicate at 2 a.m. on say, July long weekend” said Unrau on the proposed system.

The technology is similar to USafe – a system implemented at the University of Saskatchewan in 2012 as a precautionary measure.

“We’ve seen unfortunately at other university campuses where there’s a threat, somebody going around injuring people and there’s a real need there to communicate with the campus community rapidly” said Ivan Muzychka, U of S VP of Communications.

The system at the University hasn’t been used yet. Thirty per cent of the student body has opted to be on the texting list.

If Everbridge is approved by council, the city’s system could be functioning by this fall.

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