Amatra InTouch

- Racing Against Mother Nature: Amatra Helps Indiana AHIMT Prepare for Hurricane Sandy 10/31/12

In late October, the weekend before Hurricane Sandy hit, the Amatra team worked with Tom Eckert and his All-Hazards Incident Management Team in Indiana to prepare for what could have been a devastating natural disaster blow from Sandy and her aftermath.

Sandy after Landfall

Sandy after Landfall by NASA Goddard Photo and Video, on Flickr

Eckert, a longtime Amatra customer in Madison County, Ind., helped ready the incident management team for disaster-situation deployment by using SmartSource™ technology to notify them that they might be needed.

This AHIMT is just one part of Indiana’s District 6 emergency-response task force, which also includes the emergency medical responders, fire departments and law enforcement of 13 Indiana counties.

During these preparations, the AHIMT was also preparing for potential out-of-state deployment to the East Coast, which is a much larger undertaking than their usual emergency deployments.

Team members are all volunteer, and emergency situations like Hurricane Sandy are never set on a convenient timeline, Eckert says. “You have to notify people, and they have to find out from their bosses and their families whether they can go. That all takes time and feedback.”

Amatra SmartSource™ is capable of reaching people through their home phones, cell phones, text messages, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, all with real-time responses for quick coordination

“We notified 35 members that they were on standby and, using SmartSource™’s real-time response technology, asked who would be able to go if we got called up,” Eckert says. “This all happens very fast, and we need to get back to state authorities who need us within a couple of hours to let them know we can fulfill our mission with the people we have.”


In Madison County, there’s been little more than heavy rain and some strong winds.

But while it may seem the state is out of the woods — especially compared to New York and other states along the eastern seaboard —there are still hundreds of thousands of people without power in Indiana, and in some cases, the debris along the streets is so thick that the crews can’t even get in to make the necessary repairs.

It all starts with emergency response and rescue, but after that, these teams have a wide range of important responsibilities in recovery mode, too.

Amatra SmartSource™ is helping those teams be more prepared to mobilize when they’re needed — and helps officials in the state of Indiana know they can rely on them. For more information on creating an emergency response strategy for your area using Amatra SmartSource™, send an e-mail to



The Amatra team sends best wishes to all communities affected by Hurricane Sandy. If you’d like to donate to the cause, you can text “REDCROSS” to 90999 or visit the Red Cross’s website for more information on how to help.


- Amatra SmartSource™ gets a live endorsement at the Indiana Interoperable Communications Conference 10/31/12

We love any opportunity to visit with our customers — as well as prospective and future customers — in person. Though our technology exists to connect people better electronically, nothing beats meeting face to face. Hearing people’s concerns and sharing a little conversation and maybe some laughter often does more than a hundred calls and e-mails could.

One of our account managers, Randy Riemersma, attended the 2012 Indiana Interoperable Communications Conference and was seated at the Amatra booth when one of our customers walked up behind him, sat down and started to pull up his Amatra SmartSource™ account.

Our customers are some of the nicest folks in Indiana, dedicated 100 percent to their jobs and communities, and they were ready to go to bat for us at the conference — without us even asking!

After this customer had finished going through some small feature improvements, he started pulling other people over to show them how the system works and tell them all about why he loves SmartSource. He introduced Randy to his friends from around the state and sang Amatra’s praises throughout the conference.


Later, at dinner, Randy asked his guests for their honest opinions on Amatra’s SmartSource™ technology. There were no negative comments, but there was some discussion about FEMA and CMAS implementation in the future. WebEOC has a web app in the works that will interface directly with the government system — it won’t require any software whatsoever.

Will SmartSource be obsolete? Many of our customers say no: They’d still want SmartSource even if there were a web app that “does it all” — SmartSource is a great internal emergency notification tool.

And only time will tell whether the WebEOC app will have all the features SmartSource offers, including integration with home and cell phones, text messages, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, as well as real-time response capabilities for when every second counts in coordinating emergency-response efforts.


Speaking of real-time responses: Even when we aren’t meeting in person, one of the biggest benefits of working with a company like Amatra is that when a customer has an issue, technical or otherwise, they can rest assured that they’re talking to real people and know that their issues are being addressed in real time.

Read more about one of our customers’ experience with Amatra’s SmartSource™ technology in our blog interview with Duane Davis from Jackson County, Ind..


Are you an Amatra user? Send an e-mail to, or connect with us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love your feedback! And if you’d like to learn more about Amatra SmartSource™, there’s still time to get in on Randy’s post-conference webinar on Thursday. There are sessions at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. EDT — e-mail to RSVP and use StartMeeting to join.

- IBM and Amatra team up to provide Smart Communications for a Smarter Planet 10/19/12

We think the work we do at Amatra is pretty important: Being able to communicate with large populations quickly and efficiently when the need arises is crucial in today’s fast-moving society.

But it’s been just as important for us to create strategic partnerships that help propel our business forward, educate more people about our software solutions and share our deep knowledge of multichannel communications. One of those partnerships is with IBM.


Why a partnership?

Amatra has been a Premier IBM Business Partner for more than three years, both as an independent software vendor partner and software reseller. Our expertise in mass notification also helps build on IBM’s capabilities.

IBM’s business is organized by industry. Its Government sector includes state, local and federal governments and agencies, as well as education. There’s also a cross-industry Public Safety sector where Amatra has created strong partnership ties.

Amatra’s founder, Kishan Siram, has traveled with the IBM team — and other partners whose services are complementary to ours — to various industry trade shows, including the International Association of Emergency Managers Annual Conference, and APCO’s International Public Safety Broadband Summit & Expo. Our SmartSource technology is also in place in five of IBM’s worldwide Innovation Centers.


Working toward a Smarter Planet

Thanks to Amatra’s SmartSource solution and strong expertise in the multichannel communication space, IBM approached us to participate in its government industry initiative and, later, in its Smarter Planet initiative, which is all about coming up with solutions that address the problems we’re facing across the globe. We talked to IBM’s Tom Roberts, a global partner executive for independent software provider and developer relations, about why a partnership like this is so important to everyone involved.

“People have become tremendously interconnected, which has resulted is an amazing amount of data created, both structured and unstructured,” Roberts says. “And across many industries, including public safety, you have to be able to make sense of this unstructured data.”

“This applies to services like what Amatra provides,” Roberts says. “We’re able to capture large amounts of data, analyze and sort through it, and use it to engage with this hyperconnected society of iPads, iPhones, BlackBerrys, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook. We can take advantage of that to reach people at the end of those communication channels.”

We’re looking forward to fostering even smarter communications for a Smarter Planet in the future; our partnership with IBM is helping us be more agile than ever.

“There’s a demand for more software and tools with these capabilities,” Roberts says. “It’s driving relentless innovation for IBM and our partners to be best positioned to provide them to our customers.”


You can read more about Amatra’s mass notification and communication solutions for government on our website. And for an in-depth look at our unique partnership at work, read Amatra’s case study, “Anderson University increases campus safety with better emergency communications.”

- Amatra helps Hays County, Texas, rev up for F1 racing crowds with IPAWS/CMAS integration 10/12/12

Under the right conditions, with good weather and a meticulously trained, super-focused driver, a typical Formula 1 race takes one to two hours to complete. But the preparation required of the cities that host these races is extensive, from security to accommodations and food service.

Austin’s Circuit of the Americas will play host to the United States Grand Prix for the first time on Nov. 18, 2012, and more than 120,000 visitors are expected to fly into the area for race weekend. Nearby municipalities are preparing for an influx of visitors, too, including Hays County and the City of Buda.

Located 20 minutes south of Austin, Buda calls itself the Outdoor Capital of Texas, “an oasis of country calm at the edge of civilization” — but the city’s tourism officials are banking on things getting a little crazier there. In addition to the construction of new hotels and planning of concerts and other events to draw visitors to their tiny metropolis, Buda and the surrounding Hays County may need to reach out to residents and visitors alike in the event of an emergency during this busy time.

Kharley Smith, emergency preparedness SNS coordinator for the Hays County Personal Health Department, says counties aren’t always best equipped to notify residents or visitors in a larger context.

“Counties have a tough go because everything’s so fragmented,” Smith says.

The Hays County Fire Chiefs Association — which is made up of the fire chiefs of nine different fire departments, three EMS directors, and the emergency management departments for the city of San Marcos and Hays County — has been working together to propel emergency services forward, and their efforts have included incorporating Amatra SmartSource Mass Notification System into their emergency response strategies.

“Fires [and other disasters] don’t stop at the jurisdiction line,” Smith says, “so coming together like this has really helped us integrate well for our citizens.”

The Amatra staff helped Hays County prepare and file its paperwork with FEMA and register the county for use of the IPAWS/CMAS technology. With so many visitors coming through Austin and nearby Hays County in the next month, Amatra’s Mass Notification capabilities and FEMA’s IPAWS/CMAS technology could be tested in the event of an emergency situation.

“I see IPAWS as a huge asset going forward in emergency management, and Amatra was one of the first software applications that was incorporating that technology,” Smith says.

It’s impossible to know what will happen on race weekend, but as they work toward full implementation of Amatra SmartSource technology with IPAWS/CMAS integration, Hays County officials will be ready to handle any situation they face until long after the checkered flag falls.

- Webinar Recap: Why You Need an Emergency Notification Strategy That Works 9/29/12

Did you know that almost 75 percent of Americans aren’t sure whether they have an emergency notification system in their area? That 25 percent don’t even know if there’s an warning siren within earshot of their home?

The statistics are alarming, and we at Amatra want to help do something to turn things around and make citizens more aware and more informed. Last week, Mike Graves, one of Amatra’s account executives, offered a free, live webinar called “Why You Need an Emergency Notification Strategy That Works.”

It was a great opportunity for anyone to learn about the importance of a comprehensive emergency notification strategy, whether an Amatra customer, prospective customer or someone concerned with their community’s safety during emergencies and times of crisis.


The meat of the webinar

The webinar began with some of the biggest reasons people might need to be notified.

  • Natural disasters:
    • Hurricanes
    • Tornadoes
    • Snowstorms
  • Hazardous materials:
    • Chemical spills
    • Disease outbreaks
  • Law and order:
    • Amber Alerts
    • Terrorist threats

No matter where you are, there’s a need to be able to notify people of emergency situations.

We then tackled the biggest obstacles to successful emergency notification problems, including our transient society and technology that requires citizens to opt in, which we’ve covered in a previous blog post.

The webinar wrapped up with a discussion of FEMA’s IPAWS system and how Amatra SmartSource will interface with it for states and other agencies that have registered.


Question & Answer

Then, Mike opened the line for questions from webinar participants. The first question was from an emergency manager in Southern California concerned that an earthquake or other natural disaster might knock out the Internet.

Would you still be able to use Amatra SmartSource to communicate with the population?

The answer is yes, though the Internet may need to play a smaller role in getting your message out. Amatra’s support can also aid in sending out messages to your area if conditions demand it.
The second question: Can we get messages to visitors in the area even if they aren’t registered?

You can. FEMA’s IPAWS system channels information to people based on a Google Maps polygon of the area — similar to how a broadcast of the emergency alert system on TV works. You can set a timeframe that automatically blasts your message to anyone entering that area.


Stay tuned

Do you have other questions about creating an effective emergency management system? Want to learn more about how Amatra SmartSource can help? Stay tuned for information about more webinars, and don’t forget to let us know if you’d like a recording of this webinar.

- Amatra and Emergency Management in Jackson County, Indiana 9/19/12

It’s easy to talk in hypotheticals and ideal scenarios, but we think it’s far more compelling to tell Amatra’s story through the successes of those who use our product.

We’ll periodically be chatting with our users on this blog, finding out the unique challenges they face and how Amatra has helped them tackle their toughest emergency-notification issues head on.

Our first user feature is Duane Davis, director of the Jackson County (Ind.) Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security. We talked with him as he was preparing for a full-scale exercise at Indiana’s Muscatatuck Urban Training Center.


Amatra: What system were you using before to execute your emergency notification strategy?

Duane Davis: We would send out mass emails, post to social media and make individual phone calls — there were multiple notifications going out in a silo fashion.

Especially with time-sensitive issues, it could be problematic.

I had to find the websites providing the information, paste it into each one of the silos and disseminate the information. It was very time consuming— not very robust and definitely not user friendly.


Amatra: Did you have a turning point that led you to select a different option for emergency notification?

Davis: Yes. During an exercise, there was a discussion on how officials get notified of an event and who notifies the public…everything kept pointing back to our office. I agree that this information needs to be disseminated, but we are a 1.5-man office, and I can only do so much with a small amount of time.

So we started to look for a solution to consolidate all those steps.


Amatra: How did you narrow down your options?

Davis: We’ve had various vendors present solutions to us, and I also searched online for solutions. Madison County is also using Amatra and told me to take a look. We plugged each software into our evaluations and Amatra came out on top.

The system is robust. It’s pretty simple; it’s web based, so we can access it anywhere, and thanks to word of mouth from our friends in Madison County, we knew people liked it. Hearing how someone local actually uses Amatra really sold it.


Amatra: How are you using Amatra in Jackson County?

Davis: Weather is probably the primary use of the system, between the watches and warnings for the variety of weather we have here in Indiana.

But it’s also a huge benefit when you need to send specific notifications to specific groups — I will definitely use it during our deployment next week.


Amatra: What is the biggest benefit of Amatra?

Davis: There are actually a couple of things. I can craft one message and choose how it goes out, whether through voice, text, email or social media — or a combination of those. There’s a lot of technological flexibility.

I also like that I can send a message to a specific group, and they can respond to me in real time. I know they’ve received the message and can act immediately.

I think the other highlight to Amatra is its affordability of it. It’s definitely much less expensive than some other brands we looked at: It’s not some flashy, big-name system, but I can accomplish with Amatra just about everything the flashy ones can do for a fifth of the price.

- 5 Challenges Governments Face in Social Media Compliance for Citizen Communications 9/13/12

For a lot of people, especially younger people, life is lived out online. Today, just about anyone can pay bills, make restaurant reservations and get movie tickets, plan travel, keep in touch with friends all over the world and get the news faster than ever.

What did these people do before there were cell phones?

So it makes sense that government agencies — local, state and federal — would try to tap into the popularity and prevalence of the ultimate democratic technology for citizen communications, from emergency situations to drought-condition water restrictions,burn bans and city/county public meetings. There are a lot of opportunities!

For one, social media is often the first place people see things now; it’s one of the most direct ways to reach a very public audience. And well-executed social media posts can also become viral almost immediately, a boon for agencies hoping to make a strong impact with their news.

But despite those opportunities, there are actually many more challenges that go along with social media and can create obstacles to using it effectively for citizen communication. Here’s a look at the top five stumbling blocks government agencies can encounter:

1. Effort

It takes a serious investment of time and resources to manage multiple social media outlets — and provide enough coverage to reach as many citizens as possible. Logging into different social media sites and posting this information takes a lot of time, and it’s hard to be consistent. Are you equipped for that investment?

2. Security

Government agencies are in a tough spot here: You’ll want someone skilled and trained in social media management, but do they have the security clearance to be privy to all the information they’ll need to inform your citizens? And if an employee who had the passwords to all your social networks leaves the company, it can be a hassle to change the passwords and maintain your security.

3.    Accountability

It is difficult to track who sent the message to whom and when and how — and even harder to know who’s seeing it, and when and where.

4.    Brand protection

The gloves often come off in social media. It’s important to safeguard your agency’s brand and message, as well as protect its privacy where necessary.

5.    Analytics

It can be tough to determine which metrics are most meaningful for quantifying who you’re reaching with your posts, and how to make decisions based on those metrics. Do you have the staff and resources to dig into the numbers?

Amatra has the tools and best practices to help governments tackle the challenges they’re facing in implementing social media for their citizen communications. For more information, visit our website or email You can also like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter!

Photo: Ed Yourdon

- Using Social Media for University Emergency Response 8/23/12

About two years ago, on the morning Sept. 28, 2010, a 19-year-old math major at the University of Texas in Austin arrived on campus with an AK-47 and opened fire. His shooting spree ended in the campus’ Perry­-Castañeda Library, where he turned the assault rifle on himself and fired a 12th shot that killed him.

Timing is everything

The University of Texas has an emergency notification system for situations like this — as well as official Facebook and Twitter accounts for spreading important information — but the first message wasn’t sent until 20 minutes after the shooter got to campus and opened fire. We all know that every second counts in a situation like this.

In the meantime, the Facebook and Twitter were blowing up with news of the incident and warnings to stay safe…people around the world who are active on social media could have found out about the incident before many those who were actually in danger did!



There was a lack of official emergency notification, but even worse, the first messages to emerge weren’t official, and miscommunications abounded during those first critical moments. Rumors passed among unofficial parties can foster panic, which can of course lead to even less safe situations.

Though the shooter didn’t actually injure anyone, it’s quite clear he could have, and without proper emergency notification on where the manhunt was taking place, many students could have been in grave danger.

Students Paige Raiczyk, front left, and Veronica Rivera, front right, and other University of Texas students and faculty hold their phones awaiting updated text messages inside the Austin campus' Benedict Hall.

The university’s efforts

Take a look at the University of Texas’ emergency notification from that day on the Thunder Pig blog.

The University of Texas Police Department saw the number of Likes on its Facebook Page skyrocket from 469 on the day of the shooting to more than 10,000 two days later (there are 51,000 students on campus, and there’s no telling how many of the UTPD’s Likes are students).

As of late August 2012, the UTPD’s Facebook Page had 11,783 Likes, and when there’s not an emergency, campus law enforcement stays top of mind by posting other school safety tips, such as instructions on how to double lock your bike, and photos of ordinary campus life and events like the First Responders Bake Sale. This helps ensure that when there is an emergency in the future, students and the community will pay attention.

It’s clear that the University of Texas in Austin and the law enforcement that serves the student body is taking steps to make social media part of its first-response strategies. The UTPD called its first-ever use of social media in issuing emergency alerts a success, but timing is everything in situations like this.


Though the University of Texas in Austin shooting happened years ago, similar incidents have continued to crop up all over the country since then — this is not a problem that’s going away.

Visit our website for more information on how Amatra is working with universities to provide better emergency notification and communication during times of crisis on campus. You can also e-mail the Amatra team with specific questions about your organization.



- Emergency Communication Lessons Learned from the Colorado Fires 8/16/12

Earlier this year, the Lower North Fork and Waldo Canyon fires raged through Colorado. The Waldo Canyon Fire currently holds the unhappy record of being the most destructive fire in state history, and it’s also the most expensive, with insurance claims already totaling more than $350 million.

Waldo Canyon Fire

Waldo Canyon Fire, June 2012 (photo by L.N. Batides)

Five people died during those fires, including at least one who had signed up to receive emergency communication from her community but never got a call. No system could have prevented the fires themselves, of course, but a more effective one could definitely have lessened the human impact of the disaster.

Let’s take a look at some of shortcomings in the realm of emergency notification:


Traditional systems, like the Jefferson County reverse 911 and El Paso/Teller County E911 service, require preregistration. Which means folks need to have heard about the service prior to the time of the calls going out. From a PR and outreach standpoint, the effort required just to get people to sign up for these systems is monumental. Historically, only 5 to 10 percent of residents sign up, and the systems don’t cover visitors and temporary residents at all.

Even when governments get residents’ contact information from phone companies and service providers, there’s no guarantee someone will end up in the database unless they add themselves.


The landline conundrum

Many of these systems also target only home phones. As of late 2011, 32 percent of homes had only mobile phones, and one in six homes received nearly all of their calls with a mobile phone even if there was a landline present.

These systems tap into often-outdated databases and actually reach far fewer households than intended — a typical success rate is about 50 percent, according to the Denver Post’s coverage of the Lower North Fork fire.


Outdated technology

Relying on traditional technologies can also be risky when infrastructure crumbles during times of disaster. Jammed phone lines and electricity outages are just a couple of the concerns around this.

Other systems currently in use employ outdated notification channels. The television audience has declined by half since 1965, and only 85 percent of the TV viewers watch today is live anyway — those emergency broadcasts won’t do much good a week later on a DVR recording! Radio broadcasting also is increasingly fragmented, and with streaming applications like Pandora and Spotify personalizing and globalizing music listening more than ever, radio is really falling by the wayside.



And finally, there’s the issue of time. In the situation of a slow-spreading wildfire, minutes may be enough to get a message out. But in the case of a gunman, terrorist threat or fast-moving storm, it’s seconds that count. Relying on messages spread by traditional land-line communications and other outmoded technologies just isn’t enough today.


In communities already attempting to notify the public through multiple channels, thus far it’s a piecemeal, fragmented approach at best. There’s more that can be done, and Amatra is working to bring the technology and resources to reach communities of all sizes in times of crisis — more quickly and more reliably.

In our next blog, we’ll talk about how social media and our new geographically based technology — which requires no signup — can greatly improve public safety communication.

- Introducing FEMA IPAWS/PLAN/CMAS program and how Amatra fits in. 7/11/12


Federal officials and the nation’s largest wireless providers announce Personal Localized Alerting Network (PLAN) that will send emergency alerts via text message to mobile phones.
Download Application:  Fema-IPAWS-Application.
For questions completing or submitting please email or call 317-536-9234.

Advantages of IPAWS

The following sub set of issues could be addressed as a result with Amatra’s partnership with FEMA when the need to communicate with large number of citizens.

Available schedule/timeline of the FEMA IPAWS program:

  • One June 15th FEMA will begin accepting applications from Public Safety Agencies to get access to the system.
  • Initially the system will allow interoperable communication between approved agencies.
  • During August 2011, the system will allow testing with the PLAN compliant protocols. Agencies can begin testing to make sure they can connect to the FEMA system with PLAN compliant messages (Amatra software will take care of this).
  • The fully operable PLAN/CMAS infrastructure should be available for citizens outreach by end of the year or early next.

How can Amatra help?

Where Amatra comes in context of the above video is the “origination” of messages. Public Safety personals would require system like Amatra to trigger/manage messages. Amatra has signed a MOU with FEMA and has completed integrating with their infrastructure. Validation of the Amatra System was completed in June 2 and we are awaiting final report. We are aiming to be the first to integrate with FEMA IPAWS system

It is advised that interested public safety organizations quickly sign up for access to the system and receive their credentials. It typically takes 1 week now but and as more entities sign up the process time could significantly increase.

Amatra can help with the paper work and answer any questions you have.