Here in Dane County, WI, we are best known for our state capital city of Madison and the main campus of the University of Wisconsin. We are responsible for a wide geographic area and about 520,000 people. In our county, we also have small cities, small towns, and very rural areas.
Dane County is growing very rapidly. That puts a premium on building a crisis communication system that is easy to use, automated, and can keep up with the new demands we keep placing on it.
When we were searching for a new emergency communication solution, our initial challenge was to satisfy three key criteria – integration, automation, and geography. Our previous solution was not really a system. It was a mixture of systems and components, each of which had to be operated independently, with varying degrees of complexity.
We needed to find a way to unify our operations across:
- Reverse 9-1-1 telephone voice notification
- In-house email distribution
- Outdoor warning sirens
- Manual, fax-based connections to the National Weather Service for broadcast EAS
- Social media
- IPAWS access
Integration, Automation, and Geography
Integration meant two things to us. We had to bring those systems together into a common framework. And, we needed to get our various towns and cities to integrate their own alerting needs into ours, so that we could send consistent messaging, where and when it was required.
Automation was essential because our staff is limited and we do not have time for manual processes or a different interface to learn for every one of our crisis communication systems. Plus, our rapid growth puts a priority on our being very efficient. We were able to make the siren system almost completely automated, and operate it separately from the rest of our emergency operations. Everything else had to be brought into a single framework that would require as little input from us as possible when we find ourselves under time pressure.
Geography refers to the large size of our county. Most of our alerts are in reference to severe weather. What happens in Sun Prairie in the north part of our county probably is not going to affect Verona down in the southern part. We needed to be able to segment our alerting to where it was most relevant, and preferably automatically.
How Do We Judge Success?
To achieve success meant we needed a practical solution to resolve our specific issues, with room to address future needs that could be operated without overwhelming our staff. Our core requirement was for something robust, reliable, and connected with everything – and a solution that would simplify our diverse, cross-county operations.
That is what AtHoc delivered to us.
We have not yet leveraged the full potential of our system since we have not experienced any serious incidents, and we consider ourselves fortunate on that count. However, the parts that we do rely on regularly give us confidence and assurance that we are ready for anything.
More importantly, AtHoc gives the cities, towns, organizations, and citizens that depend on us a certain peace of mind, too. The certainty that we are ready with the system we need, before a crisis hits, has made AtHoc a terrific investment for our entire community.