On Feb. 27, Hawaii residents were warned that the 8.8-magnitude earthquake that struck in Chile set off a tsunami headed for its shores. The Hawaii County Civil Defense department immediately began issuing warnings, setting off sirens, issuing radio alerts and sending e-mails.
The county also told residents to move to higher ground one other way: mobile alerts sent via SMS to their handsets. Quince Mento, director of the island's Civil Defense department, says the mobile alert technology has proved invaluable.
"We saw an immediate benefit," Mento says. "We dove into using the technology, and our expectations have come true."
The service is provided free of charge by local tech firm Talisman LBS and covers the Big Island of Hawaii, which has the majority of the state's population. Hawaii is not just the only island state in the U.S., it is also home to a live volcano. Mento says mobile alerts are especially useful given the island's unusual geography and rugged landscape.
"There's basically one major highway that goes around the whole island, and if there's a road closure, there's no way to get around it," he says. "We saw it as an opportunity to notify commuters that something was going on."
Hawaiian residents can opt-in to the service on the Hawaii County Web site. Alerts are issued sparingly and include warnings about flash floods, brush fires and severe weather.
The state also has incorporated the tool into its high-profile tourism industry. "Especially in the wake of the Indonesia tsunami, visitors feel more secure if they're notified of [emergencies]," Mento says. Both residents and tourists can opt out of the service from their phone.
For Talisman LBS, the company that provides the mobile alert service, working with the Hawaii Civil Defense department has provided an opportunity to find new uses for its mobile marketing platform.
"Mobile alerts are all about safety and awareness. Though Talisman's offerings are larger than just that, this application allowed us to work closely with an organization that had very high level requirements," says company President and CEO Kyle Tanouye. "It's been a good opportunity to work with them to continually test our system and make sure it's up to par."
The mobile alerts program with the state has been a good experience for the company, which formed just two years ago. Tanouye says his company is working to expand its offerings into the enterprise white-label space for media and advertising companies.