The 9-1-1 emergency service in Oregon has expanded to include instant notifications to school administrators, hospitals and other people who need timely emergency notifications, thanks to a coalition of Oregon local governments and technology vendors using Web services and off-the-shelf software.
On Wednesday, the Regional Alliances for Infrastructure and Network Security (RAINS) launched its RAINS-Net technology platform, which sends live emergency information to selected users over the Internet and by cell phone. The creators of RAINS-Net are billing it as an extension of 9-1-1 service, in which the existing computer-aided dispatch system is connected to the Internet and sends alerts to officials who need to know about emergency situations in their neighborhoods.
RAINS-Net, linked in this case to the Portland, Oregon, 9-1-1 center, automatically sends out the alerts without dispatchers doing any more work than they would to notify the appropriate response agency, such as a fire department or police department. "The operator doesn't do anything except what they're doing today," said Charles Jennings, a RAINS board member and chairman and chief executive officer of sponsoring vendor Swan Island Networks. "It adds no new human resources element to the dispatch center."
Launched 16 months ago as a response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the U.S, the RAINS-Net project was funded with only $60,000 in grants from the state of Oregon and private company sponsorships. Founders also envision the RAINS coalition as boosting economic development in Oregon and surrounding states by developing technologies that can be used elsewhere, Jennings said. Sixty companies and six universities are involved in the RAINS coalition, he added, and four other states have either started a RAINS group or are talking to the Oregon coalition about it.
"We thought there would be the opportunity to develop new homeland security systems," Jennings said. "We decided to take an active, 'let's-build-it approach' as opposed to just creating white papers and policy."
The group acted on advice from Senator Ron Wyden, an Oregon Democrat, who said if the group wanted support from Washington, D.C., it should approach lawmakers and bureaucrats with a working product, not a blueprint. In looking to design products that aid domestic security, the coalition decided to tackle the problem of information sharing between emergency responders and the public.
The creators of RAINS-Net believe it is the first project to capture real-time data in a 9-1-1 center’s local information system, and redistribute it broadly to those responsible for public safety in a community, Jennings added.
Here's how RAINS-Net works: When a 9-1-1 call comes into a dispatch center, the information an operator types into the dispatch center computers can be routed to a cell phone message or a pop-up dialog box on a PC. In the case of an emergency event like a hazardous waste spill, those people on the RAINS-Net network would be notified immediately, and the dialog box might direct them to additional multimedia information, such as a video on how to respond to a hazardous waste spill. The RAINS-Net system, which goes live on Thursday, already has about 1,000 files that provide additional information on emergency situations.
In some cases, such as a crime in progress, the RAINS-Net system would wait until police show up on the scene before notifying people on the network, so that police can assess the situation before raising concerns, Jennings said.