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On Hawaii’s Big Island Text Alerts Prove Critical During Hurricane, Volcanic Eruption

A large sinkhole at the Kilauea Overlook intersection inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii.

A large sinkhole at the Kilauea Overlook intersection inside Hawaii Volcanoes National Park on Hawaii. Janice Wei / National Park Service via AP Photo

 

Connecting state and local government leaders

The Hawaii Police Department warned businesses and residents of flooding, landslides and toxic-gas spewing fissures during the events over the past four months.

Between Hurricane Lane in August and Kīlauea’s recent volcanic eruption that started in May, the Hawaii Police Department needed to keep residents and visitors abreast of developing public safety threats.

The hurricane dumped 52 inches of rain on the Big Island, causing flooding and landslides, while Kīlauea’s eruptions opened lava- and toxic gas-spewing fissures across parts of the island, destroying more than 700 homes.

Text alerts proved the quickest way to warn people about everything from road closures to evacuations.

“It comes in quite handy when we have a prolonged event,” Alan Richmond, public and media relations liaison for HPD, told Route Fifty. “The police chief feels that it’s vital for us to conduct proper communications year-round, 24/7.”

HPD has used critical event management software, Everbridge, for notifications for eight years—boasting 30,000 subscribers on the platform. Richmond and officers in the field issue informational updates daily.

Kīlauea updates ran for three months, HPD sending out a push message to mobile devices on the island asking interested users to text the keyword “LAVA” to 888777 for any reports on current conditions at the volcano’s summit and base. The keyword “LANE” was in place one week by comparison before and during the hurricane.

Text alerts can help coordinate personnel at businesses, hospitals and airports, as well as residents and visitors during disasters, terrorist attacks and cyber breaches, said Imad Mouline, CTO at Everbridge.

Many of the automatic messages sent by HPD during both events went out to large corporations making sure their employees or resources were safe. During serious disasters information on utility outages, crisis counseling, unemployment assistance, legal services, family case management, community meetings, and shelters can be provided.

“Whenever there is a critical event happening, we help with the entire life cycle of that critical event,” Mouline said.

Everbridge vets information from a variety of sources before alerting the client, who then identifies and notifies key stakeholders. Emergency operating procedures can be established to request responses to alerts.

The platform can also analyze alerts to see how well they’re performing and scale as needed.

IT management systems can connect with Everbridge to alert administrators when an intrusion is detected.

While Hawaii County uses a simple sign-up procedure for residents, different dissemination mechanisms can be used to send voice calls and emails. Maui County uses Everbridge as needed.

“We have the ability to deploy a system on an emergency basis,” Mouline said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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