Texas taps AT&T to develop emergency evacuation and notification tool

Texas officials are counting on a statewide citizen-evacuation system that employs radio-frequency identification (RFID) and wireless technologies to help residents cope during future emergencies and disasters. The system also is designed to help reduce the number of dangerous search-and-rescue operations that need to be conducted during and after disasters.

AT&T Inc. has announced a contract with the Governor's Division of Emergency Management (GDEM) in Texas to develop the evacuation and notification tool, which is called the Texas Special Needs Evacuation Tracking System (SNETS). One goal of the system is to provide real-time information on evacuees, enabling the GDEM to better support the evacuees and their families during a crisis. According to AT&T, this will be the first statewide citizen-evacuation system in the United States.

AT&T will serve as the primary provider and will deliver wireless RFID service to support a statewide emergency-evacuation tracking system in the Lone Star State. The tracking system, which was successfully deployed in 2006 and 2007 during state evacuation simulations, is designed to help safely evacuate citizens in the event of any large-scale natural or manmade emergencies.

According to AT&T, the evacuation notification network will enable the GDEM to assist cities, counties and state agencies in planning and implementing their emergency management programs. The network also will help the GDEM deliver a comprehensive, all-hazard emergency management program for the state. As part of its agreement with the GDEM, AT&T will provide project management, engineering, staging and technical support.

System registers evacuees, issues wristbands

The system works like this: In case of an emergency evacuation, evacuees will be registered on site and issued a bar-coded RFID wristband. An evacuee's wristband will be scanned by the GDEM with a wireless device as the evacuee boards a state-contracted bus or other vehicle, and the information will be added to the bus boarding log.

Evacuee intake information and location then will be sent wirelessly to the University of Texas Center for Space Research data center. GPS systems on board the vehicles will track needed location information along the evacuation route. The wireless setup will update evacuee profiles and provide real-time information once the vehicle reaches its destination.

According to AT&T, state employees using the system will be able to respond to inquiries from the public about the safety of evacuated family members and to reunite families that have been separated during a large-scale disaster. Continuous monitoring of systems will limit breaks in voice and data traffic, the company said.

System uses Motorola hardware

Motorola hand-held computers will be used for the enrollment and tracking of evacuees throughout the process. In addition, Motorola bar-code scanners and RFID readers will be used in the registration and final-destination check-in process for evacuees.

Other firms that are supplying equipment for the evacuation information and notification network under the AT&T contract are:

  • Radiant RFID—provider of the RFID portals and wristbands.
  • WebTech—supplier of the GPS systems for the state-contracted vehicles.
  • Retriever Software—provider of the software that enables real-time information sharing.

“We wanted to enhance our existing emergency evacuation planning strategy with a new system for tracking and locating evacuees,” said Jack Colley, chief of the Texas Governor’s Division of Emergency Management. “We are confident that the statewide emergency-evacuation tracking system will not only help save lives and effectively ascertain the location of the displaced citizens, but it will also provide the state with the ability to update the families of the evacuees and effectively allocate search-and-rescue resources. The RFID solution will improve the GDEM’s command and control management of large-scale disasters within the state by enabling officials to efficiently allocate valuable emergency resources.”

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