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New York State rolls out free SMS alerts

The New York State Emergency Management Office is deploying free SMS services through NY-Alert, the state?s All-Hazards Alert and Notification System.

SEMO tapped mobile messaging service provider Sybase 365 to keep New Yorkers up to date via their mobile device. The Web-based portal allows state agencies, county and local governments, emergency service agencies and institutions of higher learning to provide emergency alerts and private notifications to a defined audience through SMS alerts.

?NY-Alert is designed to take information and utilize the latest technology to the fullest,? said Dennis Michalski, assistant director of community affairs at SEMO, Albany, NY. ?Prior to the development of NY-Alert, it used to take up to an hour to use all of the technology available to get the word out, but now it?s a one-stop shop.

?We create the message once and launch it simultaneously over 17 gateways, Sybase?s SMS platform being one of them,? he said. ?We do a lot of two way SMS communications, but the unique thing about NY-Alert is that it?s not a single-channel notification system, NY-Alert was designed to be a multifaceted alert system."

There are 160 different categories and events within NY-Alert, from a missing child to a broken pipe to an amber alert to transportation issues. SEMO asks sister agencies such as the Department of Transportation, the Department of Criminal Justice and the State Police to provide information for the alerts.

The New York State All-Hazards Alert and Notification is a Web-based portal that is part of New York State?s efforts to provide New Yorkers with information so that they will understand the risks and threats that they may face and know how to respond accordingly.

The Web portal contains critical emergency-related information including instructions and recommended protective actions developed in real-time by emergency service personnel.

Concurrent with the postings to the Web site, the same information will be disseminated through various communications systems, including email, media outlets and now mobile.

Sybase 365, a subsidiary of Sybase Inc., enables mobile information services for carriers, financial institutions and enterprises.

The company specializes in SMS, MMS and GRX interoperability, mobile commerce, text messaging, mobile marketing and content delivery services.

Sybase 365 processes more than 1 billion messages per day, reaching 800 carriers and 3.4 billion subscribers worldwide.

SMS alerts from SEMO
Of the 4.7 million NY-Alert subscribers, 2.3 million have provided their mobile numbers to receive text messages.

The entire State University of New York, which comprises 64 campuses, and the entire City University of New York system, use NY-Alert.

The mobile alert notification system, which Sybase claims is the largest nationwide, is a free, subscription-based offering that lets consumers register multiple devices from which they want to receive alerts.

The Sybase 365 SMS platform lets subscribers receive emergency information such as major road closures, severe weather events and protective actions recommended by state, local governments and universities, all through their mobile device.

These notifications will include severe weather warnings, significant highway closures, hazardous materials spills and many other emergency conditions.

Additionally, New Yorkers can find information regarding response actions being taken by local and state agencies and protective actions that they should take to protect themselves, their family and their property.

SEMO is using the short code 692578 for the NY-Alert system. It has applied for five more short codes to enable individual state agencies to have their own short code to offer additional features and two-way communications. For example, the SUNY system is talking about having its own short code.

When someone texts in to SEMO?s short code, she is sent a text message with a URL to the NY-Alert Web site where New Yorkers can subscribe for notifications by providing their email address, mobile phone number and fax number.

SEMO claims to be increasing its SMS subscriber base by 10,000 users per month. It sends out an average of 110,000 text messages per day, the bulk of which are transportation and severe weather alerts.

?One of the issues we had with NY-Alert is the sending of actual text messages for various types of alerts,? said Kevin Ross, assistant director of technology at SEMO. ?We looked at all the SMS vendors out there, and we wanted to go to the top people, which is why we partnered with Sybase.

?Sybase enables two-way SMS communications with our own short code, tens of thousands of messages a day, and it?s been well received and heavily used,? he said. ?Sybase gives us results quickly and easily, they eliminated the middleman, and the communication with them has been great.?