With alert system, Coast Guard finds user expectations grow with functionality

The first nationwide Alert and Warning System (AWS) implemented by the Coast Guard provided the ability to send not only e-mail messages to PCs but also text messages to cell phones and other handheld devices. This was a great advance seven years ago, but the recipients were not always happy about it.

“People complained a lot,” said Lt. Cmdr. Ted Kim, the Coast Guard's operations systems manager.

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Sometimes, as many as 10 alerts were going out in a day, and recipients were paying from 10 cents to 50 cents for each text message received. That could add up during the course of a monthly phone bill.

Those days are mostly over, Kim said. The newest iteration of AWS is moving further away from traditional desktop PCs and cell phones and is now taking advantage of a wide variety of delivery channels, including voice messages, e-mail and text messages to Internet-connected handheld devices. Alerts also include the ability to respond directly to messages from mobile devices.

“It’s shifting,” Kim said. “Now everybody has a BlackBerry or other device that includes data. People want to use their handhelds in the field.” More flexible service plans also are eliminating steep messaging charges, making it more convenient to use the devices routinely. “That’s an interesting shift in just a few years,” he said.

About the Author

William Jackson is a Maryland-based freelance writer.


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