City of Dallas officials have used the GeoCast Web alerting solution from Airbus DS Communications to warn residents in areas where others have been exposed to the deadly Ebola virus, according to Joe Ellis, senior management specialist at the Dallas Office of Emergency Management.

With the GeoCast Web application, Dallas officials were able to send “mostly educational” alert messages to phones in a targeted geographic area following the separate confirmations that Thomas Eric Duncan—who died from the disease on Oct. 8—and two healthcare workers treating Duncan had been exposed to the Ebola virus, Ellis said.

“[Officials] wanted to get as much information in there as possible, without overdoing the message,” Ellis said during an interview with IWCE’s Urgent Communications. “That’s what took the longest—getting the right message approved.

“Once they told us the parameters, we would pre-build the scenario. All we have to do is plug in the message. It took less than three minutes.”

Dallas has been using the GeoCast Web system since 2011 to deliver a variety of messages in the past, including information to alert residents of threats involving the West Nile virus and hazardous-material spills, Ellis said.

When an alert is needed, Dallas officials are able to identify the geographic area that needs to be served, and GeoCast Web delivers the message to all landline phones in the 911 database for the target zone and all registered cell phones associated with an address in the target area, Ellis said. The GeoCast Web solution is not integrated directly with the 911 database, but addressing updates to the system are made quarterly.

Since the Ebola threat, the city of Dallas has seen a marked increase in the number of people registering their cell phones to receive alerts, Ellis said. In addition, steps have been taken to ensure that people working in the downtown area have the opportunity to receive alerts, as well, he said.

“It’s more predominant in the downtown districts, but there are a lot of businesses that will register their addresses,” Ellis said. “Then, we have what we call a downtown security group. Basically, they get the messages and distribute it. And, if individuals want to create their own account—if they’re not a city resident but they work down here—they can use their work address as their point of contact, and they’ll receive the message that way.”

As a result, individuals can have multiple addresses in the GeoCast Web alerting system, but they need to use a separate e-mail address for each registration, Ellis said.