Mississippi emergency responders soon will be able to send text messages via an alert network utilizing FM radio signals built by Global Security Systems (GSS), the vendor announced this week.

The multimillion-dollar system utilizes FM radio subcarriers reserved long ago for paging applications, GSS Executive Vice President Matthew Straeb said. Although the system is only designed to use 2 kb/s of bandwidth, the fact that FM radio broadcasters generate reliable signals that are able to penetrate buildings is especially attractive to public safety, he said.

“It’s not a lot of bandwidth, but it’s point-to-multipoint, and it’s a fully addressable system,” Straeb said. “But they don’t need a lot of bandwidth to say ‘Go west,’ ‘Go east’ or ‘Get out of the building.’”

Indeed, the ability to deliver such simple text messages to emergency responders is critical when other forms of communications have failed or reached capacity, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour said in a prepared statement.

"When the attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001 took place, there was no way to let the responders know that the buildings were going to come down,” Barbour said. “Radios were clogged with traffic, cell phones didn't work, and it was immediately apparent that a new means of emergency communications needed to be developed. Global Security has leveraged their 20 years of experience in the FM-based messaging technology area to provide our state with this solution."

Expected to be operational in June, the Mississippi alert system will be the first statewide system of its kind, Straeb said. However, with FM receiver chips becoming more commonplace—industry analysts predict 500 million will be shipped in various mobile devices this year—it will not be last, he said.

“We’re launching a nationwide system—we’ll have 50 major cities up and running by July,” Straeb said. “We’ve got four other states looking at this seriously and hope to have something up by hurricane season.”