History of Emergency Alert Communication Systems

Emergency communication is a crucial link that ensures that people receive the assistance and support they need in an emergency situation. Communication methods have evolved significantly as technology has advanced over decades and even centuries. With a comprehensive emergency communication system, first-responders receive notification of an event or a situation, which enables them to respond in a timely manner, thereby having a greater chance of intervening and potentially saving lives. Alert systems can also convey important information to the public in times of emergency. For an emergency communication system to be successful, it must be easy to use and understand and it must be diverse in it's forms of communication.

Samuel Morse and other inventors developed the telegraph during the 1830s and 1840s as a means of long-distance communication. The telegraph transmitted messages with electrical signals that traveled over a wire stretching between telegraph stations. Morse also worked to create Morse code, which is a set of dots and dashes that stand for each letter of the alphabet. The first Morse code message was sent in 1844 between Washington, DC, and Baltimore. This message said, "What hath God wrought?" By the year 1861, the first transcontinental telegraph line crossed the United States from the East Coast to the West Coast. By 1866, telegraph lines stretched all the way across the Atlantic Ocean to connect the United States and Europe. Communication by telegraph was instrumental in how the military fought wars and how newspapers reported the news. The telegraph was also instrumental in fast transmission of money, as people were able to wire payments across expansive distances.

Inventors continued to work to improve methods of communication. Alexander Graham Bell worked tirelessly to improve the telegraph, eventually resulting in the invention of the telephone. Bell's initial goal was to figure out a way for a device to transmit more than one message at a time along a single wire. As he worked, Bell also came up with the idea of finding a way to transmit the human voice electrically. In June of 1875, Bell and Thomas Watson succeeded in designing a device that would transmit speech. Over the next few months, the two inventors continued to experiment with different materials and wires until the day when Bell succeeded in sending a voice message to Watson. Historians tell the story of a train robbery in 1907 that was reported to authorities by telephone, leading to the arrest of the criminals. Telephones continued to evolve and expand, and in 1927, the first transatlantic service was connected between New York and London.

Wireless telegraphy was a theory explored by inventors for many decades, and around 1880, David Edward Hughes succeeded in sending the first intentional radio signal by electromagnetic waves. Heinrich Rudolf Hertz was instrumental in his experimentation that eventually proved that electromagnetic waves exist. These waves were called Hertzian waves. Guglielmo Marconi was an Italian inventor who was the first to design and build a wireless telegraphy system, which he then went on to market to both the military and maritime transportation as an important means of communication. It was Marconi's equipment that was installed on the Titanic, leading to the rescue of those who survived this seafaring disaster.

Wireless telegraphy was explored by many people who were interested in building and maintaining wireless stations that would transmit and receive messages. These amateur radio operators created clubs and pursued the hobby of sending messages over short-wave frequencies. Eventually, the U.S. government passed the Radio Act of 1912 that required federal licensing of radio operators and stations. Congress even went so far as to halt all amateur radio operations during World War I. After this war ended, though, operators began experimenting with the hobby once again, striving to make contact between the U.S. and the U.K. The first transatlantic two-way contact occurred in 1923. During World War II, Congress suspended amateur radio operation again. At the war's conclusion, hams became active once again. Amateur radio operators have been instrumental in the evolution of radio communications throughout the 20th century, especially the use of radio emergency communications during and after disasters when other forms of communication may fail.

The first electronic television was invented in the year 1927 by Philo Taylor Farnsworth. This rudimentary television used a beam of electrons to display moving images. Television stations began to appear in the United States in the late 1920s. Around this same time, the first electronic television sets were produced and sold in America. Television programming and commercials were the next invention, following soon after. It wasn't until 1954 that color television sets began being sold in the United States. In 1963, television officially surpassed newspapers as the most popular source of information. Neil Armstrong's walk on the moon in 1969 was viewed by millions on live network television.

A steam-driven calculation machine was likely the original precursor of the modern-day computer, devised in 1822. Decades later, a man named Herman Hollerith created a system of punch cards that were used for tallying the 1880 census, shortening the work to a mere three years and saving the federal government millions. The company that was then established would someday morph to become IBM. The first computer language, COBOL, was devised in 1953, and in 1974, the first personal computers began hitting the market. In 1990, HTML was developed, which set the stage for the World Wide Web. Google debuted in 1997, and in 1999, wireless Internet began connecting virtually everyone.

Cell phones were initially very large and bulky, and they were expensive to use. The first cell phone was created in 1983, and it cost around $4,000. Initial cellular technology involved the multiple re-use of radio frequencies in areas with power supplied by transmitters. When cell phones were first invented, they were designed as car phones because they were too big to carry easily. Not marketed for personal use, cell phones were used by trend-setters in sales and business.

Today, cell phones are used for much more than just verbal communication. Cell phones are multi-media tools that serve as a mobile computer for surfing the Internet, taking pictures, emailing, texting, and calling. With the explosion of applications designed for use on mobile devices, cell phones are a solution to virtually every connectivity, personal, and professional need that people might have.

You are well on your way toward protecting your staff and organization.

Take the next step toward protecting your organization by learning more about emergency notification systems and the vital role they play in your emergency preparedness plan.