California fires: smart speakers and emergency alerts

Jean-Francois Mezei jfmezei_nanog at vaxination.ca
Mon Oct 16 22:13:17 CST 2017


re: alerts


last march, Montréal had a nasty winter storm which resulted in a
stretch of highway wheree all exits were blocked for hours (the
government had inquiry on what happened). Cars stuck in there in middle
of night for 6 hours.

Once police woke up, it would have been extremely helpful if they could
have broadcasted an alert to all cars in that area, giving them
instruction on how to turn around and exit "backwards").

Similarly, in Atlanta, when a piece of highway collapsed, such alerts
might have been helpful to all those drivers stuck and unable to proceed
(and needing to turn around). But this has to be very targetted to one
antenna, not an area.

The problem is that people get annoyed by alerts that don't concern them
and if they turn it off, then it defeats the purpose for "real" alerts.


Last year, where Fort McMurray was hit by forest fires, Canada did not
yet have emergency alerts enabled. Twitter and radio were the "official"
evacuation orders. (and there were mistakes, underestimating it,
mistakes in handling traffic etc).

A telling video in case you hadn't seen it:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aC2iPvXAggM


Communications systems become extremely important in such emergency
events because of the time critical nature. For instance, in Fort
McMurray, one neighbourhood had only road out and it was already in teh
fire so people evacuating had to go through it. Yet, at intersection
with highway, the first responders were slowing traffic exiting from
Beacon hill to let highway traffic through, unaware of what was going on
on that one exit from beacon Hill neighbourhood (bad neighbourhood
design BTW).  Had they stopped highway, they could have evacuated
neighbourhood quickly instead of forcing cars to be stuck in traffic
with fire all around them.

And as a sign of the times, many home cameras ran and kept sending
surveillance video to some service provider servers as the house burned
down until power cut or camera burned. (and some of the evacuated people
were able to get cable company to check iof theyr modem was still
"there" as a means to find out if their home had burned or not.

And while authorities refused to release real information on what areas
were damaged or not, Google released "before/after" satellite images so
people could check if their home was still there of not.  (the
information age defeating politicians fears of releasing information).


on lighter note: this past summer while on an Amtrak train south of
Wilmington, interesting experience to see everyuone's phone beep at
roughly same time in train car due to flash flood alert, followed by
skies opening up and dumping an ocean on the train.


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