Goodbye Civil Defence!

Shutting down CDEM Apps & Alerting on 30th June 2016

I think it was the father of English literature, Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote “all good things come to an end”. It is on that note that we’re saying goodbye to the Civil Defence mobile apps that have been helping keep Aucklanders safe over the last four years.

In 2012, we were approached by then Head of Auckland CDEM Group, Clive Manley, and Auckland Councilor Michael Goudie to help create a way to engage the people of Auckland with Civil Defence emergencies to promote readiness and warn people in real emergencies.

For many years, there had been calls for New Zealand to have a national Civil Defence warning system, and even after Canterbury suffered the devastating earthquakes a year prior, the country was still no closer to having one. Clive and Michael were determined to change that, starting in their backyard Auckland. Having worked in the public alerting space previously, the team at CLOUD M was keen to see how we could help.

Like with most great software ideas, we were presented with a café napkin by Michael, complete with a drawing of his vision for an app. We brought our mobile-first software platform Alerter to the party and the Auckland Civil Defence app was born. 

The system was revolutionary in its approach to engage populations with emergencies and safety. It uniquely incorporated a backend alerting platform that enabled the CDEM team to rapidly get the word out via many channels, including our mobile apps, websites, SMS, e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. It even expanded to incorporate many other systems over time and went far beyond alerting; it was designed to empower people to be resilient and look after themselves, their families and loved ones in emergencies, as well as stay ready and prepared during the good times. 

The system was tested through storms, floods and tsunami warnings, gathering a huge following of loyal users who embraced its simplicity and power to help them stay safe. For many it has demonstrated just how successful startups can be at helping governments deliver rapid innovation that is game changing and drives significant public engagement. What’s more, all the preparation had been done to facilitate a New Zealand-wide rollout; each region was ready to go with a simple flick of the switch.

So what happened and why are we saying goodbye? 

Building and operating best-of-breed, mission-critical systems with high availability, great responsiveness and up-to-the-minute innovation takes ongoing investment. Especially when the system needs to scale from a handful to tens of thousands of users in seconds and people’s lives can depend on it.

While part of our innovation was to find a low cost way to structure this, an offering from Red Cross for a simple app that would be provided free to agencies, and some low cost tools from a variety of vendors for the backend was very attractive to CDEM groups with constrained budgets. 

While Auckland expressed their disappointment at this and told us how much it is “an inferior and unproven solution with poor end-user experience”, it did not make sense for Auckland to stand alone and - even with their bigger budget - ultimately it is hard to compete with “free”.

So with no national rollout of the Alerter system and with increasing interest from overseas corporations to use alternative business models and deep pockets to buy business, there was little scope for us, or Auckland Council, to continue to invest in the current system.

However, building Alerter has delivered a number of great outcomes over the last few years:

1.    We have moved the needle for Kiwis. Without doing what we did and proving that NZ can have a mobile-centric alerting system, there still wouldn’t be one. We would still be stuck with various groups playing with SMS subscriber lists and there wouldn’t have been an app model for anyone to follow.

2.    Aucklanders have been kept safe these last few years. We know that had there been a big event here, a robust and user-friendly system would have warned and helped us stay resilient and get through the crisis.

3.    We’ve learned a lot about emergency management. We are now applying that learning to help keep people safe at work every day with Blerter - our realtime health & safety platform. Soon Blerter is getting its own emergency management feature to help businesses know where their people are and keep them safe in emergencies.

All in all, we have moved the dial significantly and now we get to help private sector businesses ensure their people’s safety emergencies.

In the ongoing spirit of keeping Kiwis safe, Auckland CDEM will be adding a feed of emergencies and alerts to the Red Cross Hazards app, so head on over to their site at www.aucklandcivildefence.org.nz and see how you can carry on getting alerts.

We’d like to thank all our loyal users - it has been an honor serving you! 

And thanks to Clive, Michael, Kiri and the Auckland CDEM team for the opportunity and inspiration - it’s been quite a ride!

If you’re in business and keen to learn about mobile, people-centric H&S solutions, come and talk to us about needs and see if Blerter might be right for you. 

Thanks again and keep safe!

The CLOUD M Team