Fire Department Drops Text Pagers for Reliability of Amerilert’s Cell Phone Alerts

Headquartered in Vernon Hills, Illinois, the Countryside Fire Protection District’s squad of 85 personnel serves a 24 square mile area and an estimated population of 30,000. Its mission: to dedicate all its activities to the preservation of human life and conservation of property.

Critical to the support of this mission is the ability to reliably dispatch emergency and routine communications to its diverse staff of career and part-time firefighters, as well as civilian employees and volunteers – wherever they are, at any point in time.

Hampered by a legacy paging system that was both costly and unreliable to maintain, Countryside turned to Omnilert, maker of Amerilert® – the leading unified notification system for mid-sized corporations, non-profits, and government clients – to empower its dispatch operations with the proven reliability of Amerilert’s alert system.

The Challenge: Dispatching Emergency Alerts and Routine Communications Reliably and on a Convenient Device
Despite the growth of mobile handheld devices as the communication tool of choice for most Americans, many first responder agencies and fire departments continue to rely on legacy pager contracts and in-house systems to provide secondary alert and communication systems.

Jim Dinsch, a firefighter/paramedic himself, is the Information Systems Coordinator at Countryside and oversaw the operation and maintenance of Countryside’s legacy hardware-based in-house system. After multiple failures of this system, a frustrating 75% uptime rate, and the cost of equipping 85 team members with text pager devices, Dinsch was tasked with sourcing a more reliable, zero maintenance, cost effective solution for the district.

Aside from addressing these specific challenges, Dinsch also had to respond to the requirement for ensuring that dispatches and alerts could be pushed to personnel cell phones. “Our people were asking for the ability to get messages to their cell phones instead of having to carry another separate device,” said Dinsch.

“Our previous in-house system was very limited to which pagers and cell phone carrier it could reach, and how they could be reached. The system also crashed three times in the last year and was very labor intensive,” continued Dinsch. “Because it was housed on our own network, we experienced frequent connectivity issues – which we simply could not afford. When an emergency occurs, we need to be able to communicate with personnel wherever they are – on duty or off. Our legacy system simply couldn’t guarantee this.”

The Solution: Hassle-Free and Reliable Unified Notification System from Amerilert
Amerilert proved to be the solution of choice for Countryside Fire Protection District, empowering dispatchers to reach firefighter’s cell phones and Web-enabled mobile devices for much less cost and hassle than maintaining its pager contract and in-house legacy system.

Amerilert is a self-service, Web-based, emergency notification system offering a centralized interface to instantly and simultaneously send advisories to thousands of personnel anywhere, anytime, on any device (cell phones, PA systems, Web pages, display boards, and Web tools such as Twitter, Facebook, and more).

“A critical factor in selecting Amerilert was that, in contrast to our legacy system, the Amerilert solution is cheaper, more reliable, more accessible, easier to use, and maintenance free,” explained Dinsch.

“Besides the cost savings, the two biggest factors in selecting Amerilert were its 100% reliability and Web-based ‘anywhere access’. When we need extra personnel to come in for a fire, that’s a critical message for us, and we have not had any failures since switching to Amerilert.”

The Results: Convenience, Ease of Use, Improved Communications, and Exceptional Service
“In an emergency, and even for routine communications, Amerilert is a proven and easy-to-use system that we use on a daily basis for emergency alerts and routine messaging. We alert people if a vehicle is out of service for maintenance, if shift coverage is needed, about overtime opportunities, and a lot of different things,” explained Dinsch.

Because the Amerilert solution is Web-based it can be accessed from any Web-enabled workstation or mobile device.

“We make the system accessible to all of our personnel wherever they are located, they can even issue emergency and routine notifications from their cell phones,” said Dinsch. “Our command officer can get a message out from the field with his BlackBerry, and he can rest assured the message is going to get through.”

The Amerilert solution can also be customized to meet each customer’s particular needs. In Countryside’s case, Jim Dinsch required that the “time out” feature be disabled so that dispatchers could remain permanently logged into the system throughout the day. “Amerilert was phenomenal in their responsiveness to this request and all our modification requirements.”

While Countryside Fire Protection District is somewhat unique in that it has IT staff in-house to operate and maintain its communication systems, the zero maintenance nature of the system means that fire departments that rely on centralized or shared IT resources can easily adopt and roll-out the system without technical support.

“Amerilert is a very maintenance-free system, once you set it up, there is really nothing that needs to be maintained on a daily basis. At the end of the day, the ability to provide messaging to your personnel on a means they want it on is a huge value,” said Dinsch.

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