Sound the alarm and save a life. Mickey Schwab is doing his part.
Schwab, a Solutions Engineer at Facebook, helps people across the globe stay safe by magnifying the reach of the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA). From information about missing children to severe weather notifications, Schwab uses his coding experience to play a critical role as FIA leverages the internet to save lives with geo-targeted warnings.
“We can essentially scale imminent threat alerts in a few hundred milliseconds,” Schwab said.
And it’s only getting faster.
Schwab recently put the finishing touches on the Alert Hub 2.0, a system that will improve FIA’s response times, cut operating costs and make it easier to utilize published alerting data.
“Mickey’s contributions to the future of FIA and alerting is incredible,” FIA President Jason Bier said. “Many generations of people around the world will see the benefits of what we’re doing.”
The impact is astounding. Stranger child abductions in the U.S. fell to an all-time low after FIA connected with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and FIA continues to aid those in areas of danger. For example, the non-profit served more than 21 million emergency messages to the public during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in 2017.
Weather benefits, sunnier reliability
The Alert Hub 2.0 will enhance FIA’s vision. Much like the previous version launched in 2015, the new system covers every region of every cloud service via Amazon Web Services (AWS). Out-of-the-box AWS offerings were also added to improve reliability, reducing the complex code writing needed to run massive computing systems.
“This improves performance and allows our future volunteers to focus more on innovating to save lives rather than keeping up with existing upgrades and operational needs,” Schwab said.
For a nonprofit like FIA, it’s priceless — and it might be for others in the weather-tracking business, too. Schwab believes the Alert Hub 2.0 will aid researchers in their quest to review data and make meaningful correlations for future weather predictions.
“One benefit of the Alert Hub is that we keep a library of every weather alert,” Schwab said. “The biggest issue with weather alerts in Europe is that each country gives a storm a system ID. By not using one ID, each country doesn’t associate one specific storm. So as far as publicly available data, there’s difficulty because unless you have a private database, you’re double-counting, trying to combine and it’s hard to keep track.”
Bier believes FIA will help solve the problem, allowing innovators to better leverage public data.
“This may seem like an obvious problem someone has solved, but we’re the first organization to do it and make it free and available to the public,” Bier said.
How many million?
“Since 2015, FIA has processed and validated more than 1.6 million Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) alert messages,” Schwab said. “We have all those. We’ve got to the point where that’s not a big number, and we’ve normalized this idea where we can handle that kind of volume and reach.”
The latest advancements in technology will only expand those numbers, as a reduction in infrastructure burden make alerts more accessible and reliable. Software engineers should also find it easier to work with FIA due to the Alert Hub 2.0’s versatility.
“It’s a cool opportunity to show technology is a transformative tool where you can target a huge amount of people in a short amount of time,” Schwab said. “Whether it’s one alert or a million, the software doesn’t get tired. It just works. It was our goal to build a hands-off system that was robust.”
As cell phone networks, digital signage and transit providers come into the fold, Schwab feels the Alert Hub is “empowering communities” as it becomes a self-service system.
“(The new Alert Hub) makes things more digestible,” Schwab said. “A lot of the programs are open-sourced. It should be something that’s approachable, easier to integrate and expound upon, so we’re trying to improve that piece. Get the emergency information to the people.”
The alarm is ready. Schwab is, too.
Logan Malloy wrote this story for FIA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.