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Disaster-proofing our Lives? Technology on High-Alert

Hindsight is always 20-20. In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings this week, many questions have been raised about whether this tragedy could have been prevented to some extent by better campus communication. The answer that several technology and security companies are giving is that the severity of the situation could have been lessened by new technologies that can quickly alert thousands of people to dangerous situations.

While purchasing a program that is capable of mobile alerts may have previously been considered an excess to institutions and large corporations, I have a feeling that many of these organizations will start to make them a necessity. I have come across two companies — First Mobile Alert and Send Word Now — that have emerged this week highlighting their disaster-alerting technology.

Both companies provide similar automated services that are capable of sending a message out to several thousand mobile devices or e-mail addresses at once and in a matter of minutes. This kind of service would not just be a benefit to Universities, but it would also make a lot of sense for corporations that might need to get time sensitive information out to employees. I hope these companies start getting some much-deserved attention.

The absurd thing is that the concept of mobile alerts is not new. It is relatively commonplace now for people to customize their mobile devices with weather updates, breaking news, or even sports scores. The technologies are out there. I just don't think that organizations make it a priority to utilize them in the smartest way possible.

Unfortunately, it always takes a tragedy to alert us to the failures in our security system. In the case of last summer's averted bombing of several London-U.S. flights, it took a scare of massive proportions for airport security to start caring about people bringing liquids onto planes. Americans constantly complain about heightened security measures, especially when new procedures are more of a nuisance than an improvement. Security devices will continue to be improved — better security cameras are already making it easier to detect unusual situations and movement, and metal detectors have greater scanning technology built in — but these advancements always fail to make me feel safer.

While every disaster situation has its own unique elements and chain of events, it is typically not the help that comes in the midst of the situation that is going to protect us, and ultimately it is a more efficient warning system that we lack. Right now, these emergency alert technologies are limited to organizations where its members have a home base and the organization has a database of personal information. But, I have faith that this kind of developing technology will eventually be used to save people's lives.