Council manages Rena spill using Readynet system

160,000 texts and 160,000 emails sent to thousands of volunteers during November

In the wake of the Bay of Plenty oil spills from the grounded ship Rena, the regional council called on the emergency preparedness network Readynet to help manage community engagement and emergency response.

People came from around the country to help clean up the oil spills that were blighting the coastline. To be effective, they had to be managed.

“There were 8000 of them,” says Readynet founder Matthew Nolan. “Maritime New Zealand was the incident controller but there had to be a way to communicate with the beach volunteers.”

The council collected information electronically about the volunteers, and Readynet registered them in 35 groups. Each person was regularly communicated with by text and every night got an email situation update.

“In November alone, we sent 160,000 texts and 160,000 emails,” says Nolan. “That compares with just 200 people on the Twitter site. It was about intelligent targeted texting.”

He says Bay of Plenty Regional Council was aware of Readynet’s capabilities based on the work it had done after the second major earthquake in Christchurch, in February.

“The Chrischurch council called us in after February 22. They had set up zones and needed targeted messages. For example, all contractors had to be on the same wavelength, and there was a range of urgent and situational update messages to residents.”

Readynet was established 19 years ago. Nolan, whose background was in emergency management for councils, says it grew out of the needs to communicate with parents after a school bus crash.

The system does three things:

First, it assembles and stores information about schools, rest homes, tourist locations, workplaces and the like.

Second, it shares that information with emergency responders (it is linked to the 111 service).

Third, it provides intelligent messaging to relevant sites (emergency messages to schools are likely to be different than messages to rest homes or hotels).

In 2005, Readynet became a web-based application that asks people in the community to populate and maintain a database with information that will help both them and emergency services in the event of an emergency. Users can add to, edit or update their data at any time.

The stored information is shared online with participating councils’ emergency management offices, as well as the police 111 call centres.

Nolan says 12 of New Zealand’s local authorities have joined Readynet, including the Auckland super city but not Wellington. Coverage extends to 52 percent of the population.

“No one endorses us, however, because we are private sector,” says Nolan. “That said, the director of Civil Defence has told us we are complementary to what they do.”

Readynet costs user organisations 40 cents annually per head of population up to a maximum of 100,000 people.

The technology behind the system, which is hosted by Revera, is .NET and SQLServer.

Nolan says Readynet will announce a mapping component, provided by Terralink, at the national civil defence conference on February 28.

He notes that at last year’s conference, delegates were discussing the first Christchurch earthquake when all their cell phones began ringing. “It was the second quake; their faces went gray.”

Readynet receives regular inquiries from Australia – “almost every month” – which is likely to be its next market. “We’ve done the research and made several trips over there,” says Nolan.

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