Nixle keeps com­mu­ni­ties in touch dur­ing dis­as­ters

The Mercury News - - Business+Technology - By Levi Su­ma­gaysay lsuma­gaysay@ ba­yare­anews­

If you’re glued to the TV as you watch cov­er­age of the Wine Coun­try wild­fires, you’ve likely heard lo­cal of­fi­cials tell you to check your Face­book, Twit­ter and Nixle for up­dates. Nixle? What is that, any­way? Nixle helps state and lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties share im­por­tant in­for­ma­tion dur­ing dis­as­ters. It can send mes­sages via text, voice, emails, or on the web. If you don’t have cell ser­vice but have Wi-Fi, you can ac­cess it.

The com­pany used to be based in San Fran­cisco shortly af­ter its found­ing in Cal­i­for­nia a decade ago but was bought by an East Coast com­pany, Ever­bridge, in 2015.

Of­fi­cials use Nixle to send out in­for­ma­tion about “road clo­sures, evac­u­a­tions, where to go, whether peo­ple should boil water, air qual­ity alerts,” said Joel Rosen, chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer for Bos­ton-based Ever­bridge, in a phone in­ter­view Tues­day. “It can send alerts about where fire is spread­ing, which is very im­por­tant.”

It helped Ginette Ten­nant, a Napa res­i­dent who lost power and wire­less ser­vice Mon­day.

“It was great that we were

able to at least get those up­dates via Nixle,” she said Tues­day. “That was pretty much all we had. We had no ac­cess to the TV to get the news for up­dates.”

The home Ten­nant shares with her hus­band and chil­dren was spared by the fires, but she has friends who live a cou­ple of miles away who lost their homes.

Sign­ing up to re­ceive alerts on Nixle is sim­ple. Peo­ple can text 888-777, en­ter their ZIP code, and re­ceive im­me­di­ate con­fir­ma­tion that they’re signed up.

Be­fore the Wine Coun­try fires, about 300,000 peo­ple in the af­fected ar­eas — Napa, Sonoma, Lake and Men­do­cino coun­ties — had signed up for Nixle, ac­cord­ing to Rosen. Solano County has now been af­fected by the fires as well.

“In the last 24 to 36 hours, 150,000 more peo­ple have opted in,” he said. “We had 15,000 new opt-ins ev­ery hour.”

About 7,500 pub­lic agen­cies na­tion­wide use Nixle, whose cus­tomers are law en­force­ment agen­cies, cities, coun­ties and more. Com­bined with Ever­bridge, its par­ent com­pany, the two com­pa­nies reach about 200 coun­tries and ter­ri­to­ries, and are also used by other pub­lic agen­cies, com­pa­nies and hospi­tals.

Their soft­ware sys­tems — which pro­vide un­der­ly­ing plat­forms at many pub­lic agen­cies and work with mul­ti­ple SMS providers — were used dur­ing Su­per Bowl 50, a ma­jor event in the Bay Area, last year.

And their sys­tems were most re­cently used in an­other ma­jor dis­as­ter: to send about 17 mil­lion mes­sages to most of Flor­ida dur­ing Hur­ri­cane Irma over the sum­mer.

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