There is a Special Angel Watching Over the City of Angels During the Fires

Today, all of us are watching the difficult situation in Los Angeles and other cities in California as the most destructive and deadliest fires in state history seem to grow larger by the minute. Over 63 people have died, over 631 people are missing, and thousands of homes have been destroyed. Firefighters, the Red Cross, and law enforcement are working as hard as they possibly can to save lives and protect property. It’s times like these when incredible stories begin to emerge of people doing unexpected life-saving work that defines public service and serves as wonderful examples of doing good to help others. In many ways, this is what keeps hope alive.

One such story involves the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA). It may surprise all of us that there is a special angel watching over the City of Angels during these fires, and her name is Angel Babcock. In March of 2012, Angel, her parents and two siblings passed away when her home was flattened by a tornado.  Angel was only 20 months old.

I speak about Angel in the present tense because FIA has carried on her memory every day since the day she went to Heaven on March 4, 2012. At the time of Angel’s passing, FIA was early on in developing its technology through a partnership as a secondary AMBER Alert distributor with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. On the day Angel’s story was reported, a FIA volunteer read it and mobilized a team at Conversant to adapt the AMBER Alert technology to serve tornado warnings. It was a remarkable display of passion for Angel. Everyone wanted to channel our sadness in a way that would allow Angel’s memory to live on and save others that might have a chance to reach safety. Maybe it would be different for future Angels. Maybe her legacy could help the City of Angels.

Six years later, Angel’s memory has never been more real to all of us at FIA — as her memory lives on in each alert we serve. It has been a critical force for good as FIA has emerged as the largest global alerting platform for a wide variety of emergency alerts like the 8,257,054 Fire Weather Warnings served to the public in California, including the City of Angels, during the month of November.

The Digital Signage Federation and its members are partnering with FIA to bring these life-saving messages to the digital out of home space where we feel digital networks will be able to amplify these vital messages to people on the go through this dynamic digital content.

Since Project Angel was launched, we have served over 2 billion weather warnings across the United States and Canada.

We could not be prouder of Angel and the spirit she has left behind for all of us to cherish.

— Paul Fleuranges: The Digital Signage Federation, Board of Directors, FIA Partner

FIA helps rock the vote with geo-targeted notifications

Tornadoes. Hurricanes. Child abduction warnings.

The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) is doing its part to save lives by delivering geo-targeted alerts to those in areas of danger.

But that’s not all. FIA is also helping to get voters to the polls.

In partnership with AppNexus and Democracy Works, FIA supports the delivery of location-based notifications to inform Americans when and where to cast a ballot for a wide range of elections. Caroline Smith, senior manager of corporate communications at AppNexus, is helping lead the charge.

“Democracy Works is a nonpartisan 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to building tools to improve the voting experience for voters and election officials alike, to help every American vote in every local, state and national election,” Smith said.

Only 56% of voting-age Americans cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election, according to Pew Research. That’s starkly lower than voter turnout for the most recent national elections in many other nations. Belgium, for example, boasts the highest turnout rate at 87.2%, while Mexico (65.9%) and Canada (62.1%) also top the U.S. in voter turnout.

“Voting is a basic and realistic way to effect change in our community and country — every aspect of our daily lives ladders up in some way to decisions that are made by our elected representatives,” Smith said.

Democracy Works is upgrading the infrastructure for future elections and provides voters the information they need to register and vote easily.

“Democracy Works has a database of all the elections that are taking place across the country — from school boards on up,” Smith said. “Because AppNexus has done real-time alerting with FIA, we can pull info from Democracy Works’ database, and we’ll serve election reminders through the AppNexus PSA program that are targeted in real-time where elections are taking place.”

Democracy Works’ TurboVote Challenge is an initiative which aims to achieve 80 percent voter turnout throughout the U.S. For more information, please visit www.democracy.works.

Logan Malloy wrote this story for FIA. Contact him at lmalloy@conversantmedia.com.

FIA files bug report with Apple about cookie blocking emergency alerts

CHICAGO, Oct. 2, 2018 — Jason Bier, President of FIA, reached out to John Wilander at Apple about Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) and its impact on effective alerting that FIA engages in during global threats to life. Mr. Wilander is the Security Engineer behind Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention and requested FIA submit a bug report in Bugzilla. As a result, Jason Bier, on behalf of FIA, submitted the following report. We will keep you updated on progress. PLEASE ADD YOURSELF TO THE CC LIST IN BUGZILLA TO FOLLOW PROGRESS HERE: https://bugs.webkit.org/show_bug.cgi?id=190209


The purpose of this bug is to request the allowance of third party cookies and other necessary data for emergency messages from FIA Partners and supporting authorities, including the Global Missing Children Alert Hub in the following countries: Albania, Argentina, Australia, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Lithuania, Mexico, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Taiwan (Province of China), the United Kingdom and the United States.

Safari currently blocks all third-party cookies by default in its browser. Additionally, Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) creates uncertainty on the alert logic, further complicating delivery.

BACKGROUND: The Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA), its partners and supporting authorities relay alerts for serious events such as child abductions or imminent weather threats such as a tornado, tsunami or hurricane. Alerts are displayed immediately using the latest information from official authorities. FIA’s emergency alerts override or overlay other online messages to the public to display this urgent information to the areas directly impacted. The mission is to be a nonprofit facilitator for internet technology and services collaboration among companies, non-governmental organizations and alerting authorities to promote standards-based, all-hazards, all-media, authoritative alerting to individuals in societies worldwide.

Since its inception in 2013, FIA is the largest global distributor of authorized emergency alerts. It’s partners, through FIA, have disseminated over 3 billion hazard alerts. These are imminent threat alerts sent through browser and application advertising space. These alerts include AMBER Alert (Child Abduction), Tornado, Hurricane, Red Flag (Fire), Blizzard, Storm Surge and other warnings to the public. The organization has a running Alert Hub (aggregator) that collects imminent threats and multiple messaging systems within ad technology to deploy these alerts geographically and using dynamic retargeting creative rendering technology for the benefit of the public.

FIA’s success comes from the donation of technology grants and ad impressions, along with volunteers that serve to promote the mission, act as designated software engineers within volunteer partners and facilitate new deployments of alerts like the Digital Signage Federation (DSF). FIA has won 15 globally recognized awards for its technology and mission, such as two Shorty Social Good Awards for Best Technology and two People’s Choice Webby Awards. Safari currently blocks all third-party cookies by default in its browser. Additionally, Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) has limited use of third-party cookies, resulting in the inability for FIA to render alerts. Currently, alerts are sent to browsers and apps using the following methods:

1. Re-Targeting Cookies: The majority of AMBER Alerts sent are through the use of cookies, where ad tech can best measure frequency of PSAs and frequency cap. Additionally, geo-IP information helps serve alerts as required by the US Department of Justice and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Each alert must be served in a geographic area to prevent alert fatigue.  The blocking of cookies by default reduces the ability to serve AMBER Alerts because we do not have access to cookies, and/or they are deleted too soon. Also, the public is unaware of the blocking by default and do not know that AMBER Alerts are being blocked on Safari.

2. PMP: Tornado Warnings and AMBER Alerts are also given priority on major publisher websites through a PMP. This allows premium inventory to make sure the public in the area of a child abduction sees the alerts.  The elimination of third party cookies reduces the ability for PMPs to maintain frequency caps and analytics so that message can be shown.

3. Network Re-routing: Some ad networks receive AMBER Alerts from NCMEC and redirect certain geo-IP traffic to an ad server using tags. These tags inform the network about the emergency, and trigger a call to an ad server that can deploy the specific AMBER Alert to the browser.

4. PSA Ad Inventory: By filtering IP Geo traffic, cookie and non-cookie traffic to serve alerts. Setting frequency caps and acquiring correct geo data can be difficult in Safari as limited data is available.

5.  RTB Inventory: Certain DSPs having budget caps with third party ad tech companies to buy inventory.  Cookies are a primary source of bidding on DSPs, and result in the best way to deliver geographically relevant alerts.  Lack of cookies on Safari removes this inventory in most cases from the DSP traffic flow, artificially reducing available traffic for alerts.

Users are generally unaware of the cookie blocking taking place by default on Safari and the impact on them seeing missing children. Since this alert hub is the largest missing child alerting system, we request that Apple work with FIA to reduce the impact of cookie-blocking by default and/or provide notices that these alerts are not being served and better explain how to turn them on to see alerts.

I appreciate the opportunity to speak with Apple about these challenges, and have a great deal of respect for Apple and its success. We look forward to further dialogue going forward. Thank you. Please visit https://www.internetalerts.org/about to learn more about FIA by watching the videos.  View real-time 7 day rolling alerts at https://www.internetalerts.org/hub/messaging.

Best regards,

Jason Bier
President & Chairman
Federation for Internet Alerts

FIA releases the Alert Hub 2.0 and here’s how it helps

Mickey Schwab leads the charge on FIA’s Alert Hub 2.0.

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 lmalloy@conversantmedia.com.

FIA Reaches the DAA Summit

When it comes to data and consumer privacy, a growing number of industry challenges are impacting advertisers. FIA, however, continues to shine bright in the sector.

FIA President Jason Bier touched on this at the Digital Advertising Alliance (DAA) Summit in Sonoma, California, on June 12. It was a fitting location for the summit, as FIA delivered more than 25 million alerts for the Tubbs Fire, which ravaged the area in 2017.

“People at the summit were amazed by what we can do,” Bier said. “The fire warnings served during the Tubbs Fire were shown to all and really highlight adtech’s capabilities.”

The DAA provides significant rights to consumers while still allowing for innovation, and FIA adds another layer of importance because it showcases the commercial use of data as a vital life-saving initiative for countries across the world.

“We utilize the same communications infrastructure to save lives by alerting the public in real time to life-critical emergencies like firestorm warnings in California, hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and blizzards in Quebec,” Bier said. “This is possible because we have a robust self-regulatory privacy regime with the DAA to safeguard innovations, maintain open channels for publishers to monetize their content with data, and provide transparency and choice for consumers about privacy.”

Bier believes they’re compelling reasons, and FIA will continue to showcase how data is vital to commercial use and why consumer privacy should be spoken about in a positive light.

Logan Malloy wrote this story for FIA. Email Logan with questions or concerns at lmalloy@conversantmedia.com.

Wildfires raged, but few received emergency alerts

Susan Gorin lost her home. She could have lost much more.

When October wildfires engulfed Sonoma County, California, Gorin was in Denver eagerly awaiting the birth of her grandson. But after catching word of the inferno, Gorin, a Sonoma County Supervisor, decided to fly home early to offer her support.

The Tubbs fire killed at least 22 people and caused more than $1.2 billion in damages.

Only there wasn’t much she could do.

The wildfire raged. Many people fled. Others lost their homes entirely or worse — their lives. At least 22 people died in the wildfires, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, making it one of the deadliest wildfires in state history.

Adding to the distress, scores of residents never received an emergency alert.

“Many people saw the red glow and assumed it was in another area and didn’t pay too much attention to it until the flames were coming down the hill to them,” said Gorin, former Mayor of Santa Rosa, California.

“Most of the alert systems happened neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, telephone calls, knocking on each other’s doors.”

Sonoma County officials decided against a widespread emergency alert, stating that it would have done more harm than good to the evacuation efforts.

“It would cause unnecessary evacuations and delays for emergency vehicles reaching people in areas in need,” county spokeswoman Jennifer Larocque told The Mercury News. “In order not to slow down response to people actually in need of help, we chose not to send the notice.”

Jim Veillux, VP of marketing at Hyper-Reach, an emergency notification system used by law enforcement, schools and community groups, thought a widespread alert would be important to send to the community during a time of need. But that’s not to say Veillux doesn’t understand the difficulties of delivering precise emergency alerts.

“There are a bunch of things in the way of implementation,” Veillux said. “Initially, there wasn’t much precision in the targeting of the message. You had county-wide messages being delivered to everyone that were only relevant for a piece of the county. … That was particularly cited in one of the recent California wildfires.”

Instead, Sonoma County officials sent out Nixle SMS and a system called SoCo Alerts to warn people via their cell phones, though those emergency alerting systems require a person to sign up for the warnings.

“There was some anger (over not getting alerts),” Gorin said. “There’s still PTSD and shell shock in trying to understand how fast the fires engulfed our communities. Many people are grateful at whatever alert system was delivered to them. A number of people did receive wireless alerts, and a number of people heard knocking on their doors or the fire departments and sheriffs driving through the streets with their speakers on stating, ‘Get out now.’”

Is there a better way?
One fix for a better emergency alert system, Veillux deduced, could come from a mobile application. He said “an awful lot of states and counties” have some kind of app for emergency management, but almost none can send, capture or accept a messages to or from users.

“It would be relatively simple to install push-notification technology on an emergency app,” Veillux said. “If you could do that, you can use the location services associated with the phone and you can send messages with much more precision.”

It’s something for officials to ponder, and Veillux believes it might be an initiative that the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA), a nonprofit that delivers AMBER Alerts and weather warnings to mobile devices and public signage, could tackle in the future.

“There’s a lot more that FIA can do that goes way beyond what’s currently being offered,” Veillux said. “It takes a long time for the federal government to get anything done. In some ways, FIA might be treated with more credibility.”

FIA reinforced its reputation as an industry leader by serving more than 20 million geo-targeted Red Flag Warnings on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to devices in the area of wildfires.  The ability for FIA to render alerts across a wide array of browsers and signage is likely to bring more awareness during emergencies like this.

For its part, Gorin said Sonoma County is looking at new ways to improve recognition time when dealing with wildfires.

“We absolutely need to rethink the alert systems and rethink how we approach the early ignition of fires,” Gorin said. “We’re considering investing in cameras on tall poles over hills to see where the lightning strikes or ignition occurs with utility lines in order to bring in air resources as quickly as possible. There are a variety of strategies we’re looking at.”

House of ash
Several months later and the people of Sonoma County are still stamping out the aftermath of the wildfire.

“They’re not necessarily angry at the lack of alert system now, they’re trying to think about how they recover from the trauma of that night and the enormous amount of loss,” Gorin said.

It’s a feeling that’s hard to forget. A few days after the fires died, Gorin recalled seeing the plot of land where her home once stood.

“Maybe I’m a little strange, but I was actually fascinated and awed by the power of a firestorm,” Gorin said. “The sheer devastation that reduced a 2300-square foot home with tall ceilings into inches of ash.”

More than 5,000 structures were destroyed in the wildfire now known as the Tubbs Fire. The Los Angeles Times reported the fire caused $1.2 billion in damages.

The destruction from California wildfires won’t stop anytime soon, but hopefully the manner in which people receive alerts does.

Logan Malloy wrote this story on behalf of FIA. For any questions, email Logan at lmalloy@conversantmedia.com.

FIA wins a pair of prominent media awards

Clear space on the mantle, the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) went 2-for-2 taking home high-profile media awards in September.

FIA garnered Adweek Media Plan of the Year honors on Sept. 18 and followed with a MediaPost OMMA (Online Media, Marketing and Advertising) Award for Online Advertising Creativity on Sept. 27.

Adweek recognized FIA for the best alternative media plan under $500,000. The annual competition pays tribute to the most innovative media strategies from across the globe. FIA was one of 23 Media Plan of the Year winners in 2017.

For the OMMA Award, FIA championed the category for Artificial Intelligence, topping IBM’s Watson ads and ROM chocolate’s ROMBOT ad for the honor. The OMMA Awards were created in 2004 to honor agencies and advertisers that push the boundaries of digital advertising.

“Our partners are actively involved in targeting relevant emergency messaging through the Internet to people during hurricanes and wildfires, so it’s especially meaningful to get noticed by the industry for the critical work we’re doing at this time,” FIA President Jason Bier said. “We’re grateful to have the opportunity to participate and make a difference through the deployment of technology that’s saving lives.”

“We’ve built an Alert Hub that ingests alerts every second, pulling them in from different servers around the world, aggregating them and putting them in the AWS Cloud,” Bier said. “We are deploying them through FIA Partners like AppNexus, Conversant and Oath in real time, and also making them available to innovators for free to create new life-saving tools.”

FIA’s video, “Saving Lives With Artificial Intelligence,” which stars Amazon’s Alexa and touches on the various ways FIA helps people avoid danger, was a key influencer for both awards, according to FIA President Jason Bier.

FIA’s mission is to get crucial alerts in front of the right people at the right time — and right location. For example, FIA served more than 21 million emergency warning impressions for the recent wildfires and hurricanes, flash floods, tornadoes and high winds in the midst of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

“Engine Media built an Alert Hub that ingests alerts every second, pulling them in from different servers around the world, aggregating them through the AWS Cloud,” Bier said. “We’re deploying these alerts through FIA Partners AppNexus, Conversant, GroundTruth, Oath and Rocket Fuel in real time, while also making them available to innovators for free to create new life-saving tools.”

FIA was also a finalist for The Digiday Awards in the category for Social Good.

For more information or partnership opportunities, please contact Tara Vetro at Tara.Vetro@enginegroup.com.

FIA and GroundTruth believe in Location for Good

When we unlock data, great things begin to happen. Businesses better understand their consumers, consumers get marketing communications that are relevant to them, and vital alerts get delivered to the right person, in the right location, at the right time.

GroundTruth (formerly xAd), believes that data can be used to power decisions beyond media and across various industries – including finance, retail, real estate, non-profits, and more.

That’s why, in 2015, GroundTruth started Location for Good. The guiding principle behind this campaign is to use the same location-driven technologies and strategies they use every day to improve the safety and welfare of our communities. Shortly after the devastating impact of Nepal earthquake in April 2015, GroundTruth announced that they would partner with FIA to bring hyper-local information to real-time emergency communications. GroundTruth’s goal: to use their location technology to help FIA quickly reach people in a targeted area with details of an abduction.

“Since founding the program, Location for Good and our work with FIA has become a passion project for myself and my team,” said Monica Ho, CMO, GroundTruth. “We’re extremely proud to be the only location service provider trusted by FIA and to date, we’ve helped FIA achieve a 98% abduction to recovery rate, leading to oer 800 successful recoveries.”

GroundTruth also sees the ability to decouple their data from media as a great opportunity for its partners. Their platform allows them to observe how devices interact with the real world and their visitation data enables them to pass those insights onto others, so partners can make more informed business decisions, whether it be for messaging and campaigns or forecasting and planning.

“As we look ahead at GroundTruth, everything we do will be based on driving performance via a scalable platform that leverages location as the main source of intent,” added Ho. “We’re constantly trying to evolve to make location simple and effective for our partners.”

As the mobile space begins to take center stage, and location data gains momentum, there will be many opportunities to continue to shape and grow the category and make a long-lasting impact.

You can learn more about GroundTruth here.

 

Putting Out Fires: Ric Elert, Conversant Help People in Need

Ric Elert, president at Conversant, serves on FIA’s board. Conversant is one of FIA’s top partners.

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

And where there’s fire, there’s now geo-targeted alerts urging people to steer clear of the affected area.

Ric Elert knows the drill.

Elert, president of Conversant, a personalized digital marketing agency, has helped douse the flames on potential disasters alongside the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) for years.

How?

FIA uses Conversant’s technology to locate and warn those in danger.

“Back in the old days, if the store’s on fire, everyone grabs a bucket to go help,” said Elert, who was recently named to Crain’s Chicago Tech 50, highlighting those on the cutting edge of technology. “It’s not just, ‘Where’s the firemen?’ And FIA is the easiest form of that. It’s making your capabilities available to save a kid.”

FIA began as a partnership between Conversant and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC) in January 2011 with the intent to prevent child abductions via geo-targeted AMBER Alerts.

“Conversant started out as personalized advertising, so we’re always big on one-to-one communication,” Elert said. “When it started, our thought was, ‘How do we give back to the community? And what are the ways to enable our precision messaging to help people?’”

Big Data, Big Results 

After roughly three months of testing, Conversant propelled FIA to go live with its first AMBER Alert, a child abduction in Florida. The results were staggering.

Within an hour of the system kicking on, FIA President Jason Bier received an unexpected phone call from the NCMEC.

“We were serving so many AMBER Alerts in Florida, we brought down their entire system,” Bier said. “So we had to stop the AMBER Alert, and this is what made us realize how powerful this thing is. It was a wakeup call.

“We turned it off, fixed the problem, cached the photo locally and took the load off of the 911 system. The child ended up being saved and everything was fine.”

Since then, stranger abductions in the U.S. have fallen to nearly zero, and FIA’s partnered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Organization to deliver weather warnings. Additional collaborations continue to transpire across the globe.

Elert, who now serves on FIA’s board, is not surprised that other associations are keen to get involved with the nonprofit.

“You want to make a better world,” Elert said. “You want it better for your kids. I serve on a lot of boards for university, high school and mentor programs. If you can help one kid be better, that kid can impact 20 people.

“A would-be child abductor knows that the minute the alert goes out on this platform, everyone will be aware of it. It’s not just helping recover the child, it’s helping prevent something — whether that’s a child abduction or an unexpected storm from wreaking havoc. And that’s the biggest thing, trying to make a better world for everyone to live in.”

Written by Logan Malloy, copywriter at Conversant.

An AppNexus Developer Helps Launch Alerts to Canada

It’s safe to say George Zhao has a full plate, but he’s yet to bite off more than he can chew.

Zhao, a client insights analyst at AppNexus, is helping the Federation for Internet Alerts (FIA) push boundaries, save lives and expand reach while moonlighting as the lead developer of the AppNexus Alert Hub, an ad-tech system that helps FIA deliver geo-targeted warnings and alerts.

“Truthfully, because (FIA) is a passion project, it often bleeds into my evenings and weekends,” Zhao said. “But I’m happy to spend time doing something that, for me, feels meaningful.”

Zhao’s work continues to be instrumental in growing FIA’s scope. For the last several months, he’s worked on bringing real-time warnings and weather alerts to Canada, a project that went live in July.

“After the first phase of integrations that were mainly directed at the National Weather Service, Canada was the next obvious choice to integrate,” Zhao said.

Setting up the expansion into Canada, however, presented some unique challenges.

One issue Zhao needed to solve was how to map Canadian locations. In the United States, the National Weather Service operated on the FIPS code system, which identifies counties and county equivalents throughout the country.

In Canada, those don’t exist.

Instead, Canada uses its own set of codes (the SGC), for which reliable conversion into Canadian Postal Codes were not available. AppNexus targets on postal codes.

“We were a little stuck on that point until (FIA President) Jason Bier was gracious enough to have the FIA budget help us procure a mapping database from Statistics Canada that we could leverage to complete that task,” Zhao said.

“We’re now covering all of Canada for a whole bunch of different alerts, which is pretty great,” he said.

The lack of mapping codes may not be an issue moving forward thanks to another addition to the platform. Zhao added the ability to target geo-fenced areas by utilizing the latitude and longitude data passed on from the CAP alert. He was able to upgrade the geo-targeting system using some “very beta parts” of AppNexus’ core platform to enable this functionality.

While this feature is only available for mobile devices sending latitude and longitude data, it should make alerting much more accurate for these devices in the future.

Zhao is especially excited about this new capability. This allows FIA to target a very local geo-area when an emergency strikes.

“It’s been a fun couple of months,” Zhao said. “At the end of it, we’ve come out with a system and made some tweaks to make it even more extensible in the future.

“I’ve always been interested in doing something meaningful that felt tangible with technology and this was the perfect opportunity. So when I had the spare bandwidth and time, I could dedicate myself to it.”

Zhao credited his managers and colleagues at AppNexus for allowing him to be flexible during work hours, enabling big launches such as the Canada project.

“Our managers and staff around the company have been super supportive with helping me allocate time to pursue this,” Zhao said. “AppNexus as a whole, and I’m not just saying this as a corporate push, we do have a genuine drive to really do these kind of projects we see good in.”