Most days, the City of Boston uses mass communication software provided by the global technology company Everbridge for routine reminders and alerts: Move your car for street sweeping; beware of a coming storm; check out the latest senior newsletter.
But when two bombs exploded near the Boston Marathon finish line just before 3 p.m. Monday, the software’s more sophisticated capabilities became crucial across Boston. The city used the technology to call in additional police and firefighters, mobilize command posts, and direct essential personnel. And companies like Pearson, an education services firm with offices fewer than two blocks from the first blast, used it to check on the safety of employees.
“We were anxious to know everyone was safe, and Everbridge gave us that link,” said Pearson spokeswoman Wendy Spiegel, “especially since cellphone coverage was spotty during the height of the afternoon.”
Even as phone lines jammed with an influx of calls from anxious friends and relatives trying to reach their loved ones in Boston on Monday, Everbridge’s software was able to bypass overloaded cell towers by using land-based phone lines and Wi-Fi signals to send alerts to phones, e-mail addresses, pagers, faxes, even electronic billboards or road signs.
“So many people their reaction is, ‘Oh my God, is John running? Is our employee Bill safe? Are our friends in Boston, our family, OK?’ ” said Everbridge chief executive Jaime Ellertson.
Everbridge, which has its East Coast headquarters in Waltham, helped provide the answer for many in Boston. The company, which has about 75 local employees, services nearly 2,000 customers, including Boston Children’s Hospital, Boston advertising agency Arnold Worldwide, and Harvard Business School.
By the end of Monday, hundreds of thousands of messages had been sent about the bombings using Everbridge’s products, Ellertson said.
Everbridge’s employees monitored the aftermath of the bombings mainly via computer from the company’s operations center in Los Angeles, where multiple televisions were tuned to news coverage in Boston. In most, if not all, cases, the company’s customers used previously crafted messages such as “Are you safe?” combined with prompts, like pushing a specific telephone button to respond, to communicate where they were and what was happening, and to coordinate their efforts.
The goal is to simplify communications in high pressure situations by providing clients with ready-to-use alerts that can be sent networkwide or to a select few — say those living or working closest to the site of the bombings.
“All you’re doing at the time of the emergency, when you’re frazzled, is choosing who is going to receive the message,” Ellertson said.
At Pearson, for example, executive vice president John LaVacca said the software first helped gather the company’s incident command team, which is responsible for implementing the company’s safety plan, on a conference call. The system then helped the group notify employees of what had happened. The technology was also used to verify the safety of employees in the Boylston Street office, which was accomplished by sending workers a message asking them to assure the company of their safety.
One worker, a spectator at the Marathon, was injured but is already home and expected to recover, LaVacca said.
At the Hynes Veterans Memorial Convention Center and the Boston Common Garage, meanwhile, the software notified employees via text and e-mail that both facilities were being shut down and would be swept by law enforcement dogs, said James Rooney, executive director of the Massachusetts Convention Center Authority.
“It was scary because there was a great deal of uncertainty about what might happen next,” Rooney added. “On the list of targets, convention centers, arenas, and stadiums are always prominent.”
With Everbridge’s assistance, Rooney said, convention center officials were able to communicate the need to evacuate to roughly 200 employees simultaneously. Even after the initial terror and urgency had faded, Rooney said, Everbridge’s software continued to help.
“Later that night,” Rooney said, “we used it to give all our employees direction on the next day — that we would be open for business, but there would be restrictions on access to the Hynes.”