--> Gill Blog: History of Emergency Communication

Gill Blog

Friday, August 12, 2005

History of Emergency Communication

One way we strive to differentiate our consulting services is to try and be as holistic as possible in our approach to risk management and business continuity. One area we often pay particular attention to is communication. If it is well thought-out, it enables an institution to communicate with the largest number of people in the shortest amount of time in an emergency.

Cutting edge stuff, right? Well, maybe not. In fact shoring up lines of communication has been an ongoing challenge for emergency planners, and this dates back to the '20s. The air raid wardens who watched the skies and prepared Londoners for nighttime bombings during the Second World War provided an early example of how emergency communication programs were carried out. The protocols and procedures of communication during this period were organized and methodical, however, new mediums began to emerge that would revolutionize the effectiveness and reach of the message.

The science of "getting the word out" grew by leaps and bounds when planners began utilizing a powerful new medium that could cast a broad communication net over wide areas using electronic signals sent over the airways. Indeed, the “broad-cast”, whether transmitted through radio or a spiffy new medium called television dramatically increased planners ability to reach many more people in a compressed timeframe. Efforts were futher enhanced by the development of “point-to-point” communications such as two-way, and short-wave radios. The timing of these advancements couldn’t have come a moment too soon, as America had entered the Cold War and the era of Civil Defense. Needless to say, planners didn’t waste a moment putting them to the test.

Now, I’m not quite old enough to remember the old "duck and cover" air raid drills where kids would have to dive under their schooldesks at a moment’s notice to protect themselves from a nuclear attack. (I think that’s pretty bizarre, but understandable since the effects of the nuclear attack on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were still classsified.) I am old enough, though, to remember how some organization called the “Emergency Broadcast System” used to rudely pre-empt my weekly platter of Saturday morning cartoons by conducting a test that usually amounted to broadcasting some eerie signal tones and static. I knew that the torture would soon end when the noise stopped and a voice came on saying:
"This is a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. The broadcasters of your area in voluntary cooperation with the Federal, State and local authorities have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, the Attention Signal you just heard would have been followed by official information, news or instructions. This station serves the (operational area name - Western New York in my case) area. This concludes this test of the Emergency Broadcast System."

Fast-forward to today, and we are regularly reminded how emergency preparedness can be significantly enhanced using advanced communication technologies including terrestrial, satellite and wireless networks. Cut right to the manner in which the message is structured and communicated, however, and you will find that not only are broadcast mediums are still the same and “point-to-point” mediums now essentially describe mobile phones, but the protocols and procedures used to get the message out still rely on the same principles used by air raid wardens in World War II, Cold War-era emergency planners, as well as the good folks at the Emergency Broadcast System.

It just goes to show that everything old is new again, indeed. Feel like chatting about how the communications component of your plan can be shored up? You can reach us by email or phone, anytime.

This concludes our test. We now return you to the regularly scheduled programming…