Text alerts warn of emergencies

Stuart Gunn, from Lert Info, a company which sends emergency alerts by text and email to...
Stuart Gunn, from Lert Info, a company which sends emergency alerts by text and email to subscribers. Photo by Craig Baxter.

A short deluge of rain in the Waitaki district last month was not enough to trigger a weather warning, but it was enough to cause significant surface flooding.

Waitaki District Council emergency management contacted Dunedin-based company Lert Info, which provides an alerting service, and a safety message was texted to subscribers in the area, advising them to take care with the road conditions.

That message was sent by text within five minutes of Lert Info being advised and the council's emergency services manager Chris Raine saw ''real value'' in having such information relayed.

Lert Info has designed a service that will send emergency alerts by text and email, including Civil Defence, tsunami, police, weather, state highway closures, council notices, public health alerts and water notices. River flood levels, rural fires and power outages were also available in some parts of the country.

A fee was charged to cover ongoing development and administration costs but messages were free, director Stuart Gunn said.

Individuals selected their suburb or town when registering, meaning they received only alerts relevant to them.

During the recent Mt Tongariro alert, Lert Info was the first to publicly announce the situation, apart from GeoNet, which supplied the company with the information.

Mr Gunn believed the system, which was launched about three weeks ago, was the most comprehensive of its kind in New Zealand. One of its major strengths was that it was localised, he said.

It was text and email-based, so everyone who had a cellphone or a computer could be informed. An application was being designed which would ''take it to the next level''.

Giving an example of how the system could be useful, Mr Gunn said that if there was a power cut due to heavy snow, people were unable to use their computers to find out what was happening.

Instead, they could receive a text, which would tell them what had happened and how long they would likely be without power.

It was a ''heads-up service'', allowing the recipient to take action if appropriate, and links could also be provided to more detailed information about the emergency or adverse event. Mr Gunn, who has a marketing and sales background, said the system was continually evolving. The company was always looking for a way to make it as ''bullet-proof'' as possible.

It was about being as timely and accurate as possible and informing the public ''in a way that's never been done before''.

Although there were some similar systems, none provided as much Lert Info did, Mr Gunn said.

The way that it had been set up was very creative and it had all been done in Dunedin.

''It just shows if you think outside the square, anything is possible,'' he said.


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