Security app knows where you are when disaster strikes

Israeli security firm eVigilo is the brains behind iOref, the Homefront Command’s emergency mass communications system

Israeli and American soldiers participate in a joint earthquake drill in Holon on October 21, 2012, in  the Turning Point 6 emergency drill (Photo credit: Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90)
Israeli and American soldiers participate in a joint earthquake drill in Holon on October 21, 2012, in the Turning Point 6 emergency drill (Photo credit: Yossi Zeliger / FLASH90)

Israel’s military has chosen a local company to handle a vital task–getting emergency information to citizens.

After a year-long pilot program, Israel’s Homefront Command selected Israeli firm eVigilo’s SMART Internet to power its new iOref app, which will be ready for download later this summer. Using push message technology that finds users without their having to connect to a service, iOref’s iPhone, Android and Windows mobile apps will deliver alerts and notifications to everyone in Israel using the app, or to users in a specific part of the country.

It’s a kind of personalization of the “Red Alert” loudspeaker system that warns residents of Israel’s south of incoming rockets from Gaza, taking advantage of the fact that Israelis have among the most smartphones per capita in the world.

Besides sending alerts on emergency situations — missile attacks, earthquakes, floods and major storms, and more — the app will integrate with third party navigation solutions, like Waze, to deliver real-time traffic instructions so users can navigate to the closest safe point, facilitating rescue and evacuation efforts, the Home Front Command said.

The app will also feature an emergency button, which individual users in trouble can press to immediately contact security personnel. It’s similar to another Israeli app released last week in the wake of the kidnappings on June 12 of Eyal Yifrah, 19, Gilad Shaar, 16, and Naftali Fraenkel, 16, whose bodies were found in a field north of Hebron this week. That app, designed by NowForce, includes an SOS button, which app users press to reach the NowForce reporting center, which alerts responders who are in the area of an emergency, including police, local security officials, and United Hatzalah emergency rescue workers.

iOref’s communication component could be used in the same manner, but the system is meant more for use during large-scale national or regional emergencies in which crews are “on mission,” focused on dealing with a specific event, a Home Front Command spokesperson said.

Messages from the military could include text, audio, photos or even videos showing people in affected areas how to deal with an emergency. The system is not based on SMS, which requires a database of phone numbers to send out mass messages, but on cell broadcast technology, in which all phones connected to a cellphone network automatically receive the message.

That network, the company said, could be the standard cellphone service provider used by a customer — or it could one day be a special emergency cell broadcast network belonging to the government, which uses secure technology and special equipment to ensure that it remains online even if other networks go down. The messages can reach millions of devices within 20 seconds of being sent, the company said.

The more people know, the more prepared and calm they are. So eVigilo’s mission is to provide services that keep citizens informed, allowing governments to marshal their resources to dealing with emergencies, said eVigilo CEO Guy Weiss. To ensure that word gets out, eVigilo has developed a geo–located alert system that covers all communication outlets — TV, radio, cellphones, Internet, and pagers. Using its SMART Alert platform, eVigilo aims to cover the bases and “enable people to receive information anytime, anywhere,” Weiss said. iOref is a prime component of that alert system, he added.

By employing the app, the Home Front Command said, it could streamline its efforts and marshal all its resources to dealing with the problem at hand, instead of getting distracted and sending personnel to areas that are less affected by a national emergency.

The Home Front Command has tested eVigilo extensively, but it’s already in use in many places — perhaps most famously in Chile, where it has been used for over a year to send out tsunami warnings to residents of the thin coastal strip where much of the country’s population lives. Using the eVigilo system, the company said, Chile’s emergency authority ONEMI is able to send geo-targeted alerts and evacuation notices to millions of people within seconds. The system has been used by authorities in Chile several times, with excellent results, eVigilo said.

Israelis are among the most connected people in the world, second only to the UK in smartphone penetration. Realizing that phones could be used for more than simple messaging, the Homefront Command checked out eVigilo’s technology and realized the company had what it was looking for. The roots of iOref, said Weiss, are in its SMART for Governments system, “a real-time, location-based, multi-channel distribution platform. The messages are disseminated through wide variety of communication channels, including cell broadcast, smartphone applications, desktops, social networks, TV, radio and sirens.”

The system, said Weiss, “processes hundreds of unique events per second, prioritizes the messages and delivers the right message to the population across the available channels in the targeted area. We are excited and honored to be part of this endeavor, paving the way for the next generation alert and notification system of the state of Israel.”

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