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Monday, November 26, 2007

Melbourne Company Specializes in Emergency Notification
By Maria Sonnenberg

It's a dangerous world out there, but a local company is determined to make it safer by positioning the Space Coast at the center of emergency notification systems.

Even before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Melbourne-based Emergency Management Telecommunications had been involved in the development of a cohesive emergency communications system.

"We saw there was a major need for emergency communications systems," said Mitch Auerbach, chief executive officer of the company, also known as Emtel.

In 1999, the company assembled a team of former NASA and Air Force military software engineers to develop an integrated emergency communications system.

The miscommunication that occurred during man-made disasters, such as the World Trade Center attack, as well as with natural emergencies, such as Hurricane Katrina, underscored the need.

"Our company does nothing but address emergency notification," Auerbach said. "There are some companies that do bits and pieces, but we're the only ones that are integrating everything."

After 51/2 years of research, the result was Respond, an emergency management telecommunications model that originally addressed natural disasters, but later was expanded to include manmade events, such as terrorist attacks.

The model included sensor and detection systems, notification development and tracking and information delivery.

On Dec. 4, the U.S. Department of Education is expected to make official its contract with Emtel for SchoolCall911, part of Respond and the country's first national emergency notification system for schools.

Whether the emergency are floods in Texas, wildfires in California or a terrorist bomb in New York, the system would alert schools of the problem.

The technology also allows for overlay of related data, such a sexual offender database superimposed on the school system base to expedite proximity checks and dispatch police.

When a hazard threatens a school, the SchoolCall911 system selects any or all of 270,000 schools in the United States, and informs them of the danger via Emtel call centers.

"The system can handle multiple emergencies in any part of the country simultaneously," Auerbach said.

SchoolCall911 involves a network of approaches -- including Web, landline, fax, cellular and wireless -- through which the emergency information and guidance can be sent to schools.

The system also provides secure access for Department of Education officials to activate numerous notifications to any region simultaneously from any computer worldwide.

Funded by the federal government, the system will be available to all schools without cost. Schools also may choose to add a local element to the system at their own expense.

"We are able to select any area in the map of the United States, and immediately notify the schools about any problem," Auerbach said.

SchoolCall911 can be activated from anywhere in the world simply by using an activation key that can be inserted into any computer on the Internet.

It is one of 28 Emtel products for public and private sectors.

BioNotify911, for example, is an automated biohazard sensing system that will be able to detect anthrax and other bio-chemical hazards in the potable water supply, and then will activate an alarm to shut off the water supply.

BorderPatrol911 uses existing drug aircraft tracking systems to identify slow-moving foot and vehicle traffic that may be trying to violate United States borders. The system alerts the border patrol with specific map positions.

The college campus version of SchoolCall911 uses cellular broadcast to contact students and visitors who may be in the vicinity of an event.

"It allows us to get in touch with them without knowing their phone numbers," Auerbach said. "It enables us to circle an area, and notify anyone in it."

The technology necessary to deploy these notifications was created through Emtel's Respond Emergency Management Consortium, a network of 18 organizations that include Creative Network Innovations, Ezenia, Florida Tech, InfoUSA, Panasonic, Unisys and Verizon.

Creative Network Innovations in Melbourne is Emtel's call-center partner.

"They have the maintenance and technology needed to support the system 24/7," Auerbach said.

U.S. Rep. Dave Weldon, R-Indialantic, was so impressed by Emtel's public-sector products that he urged Gov. Charlie Crist to arrange a meeting between company representatives and the state's emergency management office.

"The system is inexpensive, as compared with other warning systems, because it uses existing infrastructure, such as existing call centers, to reduce costs," Weldon wrote to Crist. "This approach would have the benefit of providing immediate statewide connectivity."

Emtel officials, who are seeking investment capital to expand, are betting on the continuing need for their products.

"This is a major industry," said Dr. Dave Hosley, vice president of development. "We envision the Space Coast being the center of emergency management for the entire country."

The market possibilities are tremendous, said Dennis Murphy, industry marketing manager for Ezenia, which collaborates with Emtel with software for secure Internet meetings.

"The market is anywhere you have a lot of people you have to get a message to," Murphy said.

Hosley said Emtel's timing is perfect to give the Space Coast an infusion of jobs when it most needs them, generating jobs " that could help our economy after the shuttle is phased out," he said.

Florida Today
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