By Venessa Wong of BusinessWeek’s Innovation and Design staff
With the Internet, we are instantly disseminating all sorts of media–videos, photos, tweets. Yet in emergencies, such as hurricanes, many people continue to rely on television and radio for information. I spoke with former CBS meteorologist Bryan Norcross, who started America’s Emergency Network (AEN), a company that uses IP video technology for emergency communication. It streams live video and audio updates over the internet that can be accessed by anyone with an internet connection via a computer or mobile device. The content is automatically archived and can also be broadcast over television and radio. AEN, which Norcross founded in 2007 with former National Hurricane Center director Max Mayfield in Miami, has been offering the service since 2008. It is owned by Miami-based Brampton Crest International. The hope is the service will give local governments an additional channel for communication in crises. The model: government agencies, National Hurricane Center, emergency management centers, and other sources subscribe to AEN services for about $6,000 per year, plus the cost of equipment, to record, store and distribute video and audio files to AEN’s 300 media partners. News organizations stream this content live on their Web sites on a revenue-sharing basis with AEN for any advertising it draws.
The main advantage is speed. Government agencies and emergency management centers can get word out to the public in real time and bypass delay and scheduling constraints involved with broadcasting on television and radio. Rick Hirsch, senior editor for multimedia at The Miami Herald, one of AEN’s media partners, writes in an email, “Our [site] traffic grows exponentially when hurricanes or tropical storms approach our area.” Being able to show advisories live and replay them on demand will be important to the audience, he adds. Vince Graziani, CEO of VBrick Systems, a company based in Wallingford, Conn., that provides the technology to AEN, says the benefits of IP video in emergencies are that it’s live, unlike YouTube, and sites can make the content available to view any time. VBrick’s technology is already used by government offices and large corporations including Vodafone and by schools offering remote distant learning. It will take some time for people to turn to the Internet, rather than traditional broadcast sources, for emergency information. This additional channel can prove valuable, especially as increasing smart phone penetration enables people to access information from anywhere.