January 30, 2008

Restivo helping develop communications network

by Eric Welch

CARBONDALE, Ill. — You won't see Paul Restivo wearing a cape, but this safety expert from Southern Illinois University Carbondale takes his role of protecting the well-being of millions very seriously.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Safety Council recently appointed Restivo to help develop the first formal Business Emergency Communications Network.

"The network will essentially get the word out about a disaster or emergency to millions of people instantaneously," said Restivo, the director of the SIUC Center for Environmental Health and Safety. "Instead of having to wait to hear about something on the news or radio, people will know right away at work through emergency messages from the CDC."

The network will basically be an alert system that contacts tens of thousands of employers and subsequently millions of employees in the case of a pandemic, natural disaster, terrorist attack or other emergency. Restivo said the system will be smart enough to know if each contact has received the message and will try multiple communication methods until contact is established.

The network will likely employ a combination of communication channels, possibly including automated phone calling, text messaging and e-mails.

The network will be able to automatically decide which businesses to alert based on the location and the nature of each crisis. Restivo also said the scope of the network will include nearly all industries, which is being carefully considered during its construction.

"The panel was designed to be diverse so that it can make reasonable judgments for all types of businesses," he said.

Restivo brings the unique perspective of a safety official in a university setting to the 13-member national advisory panel. His primary responsibilities are to identify communications channels for the network, develop message templates, and recognize any issues specific to higher education institutions.

The panel held its initial meeting earlier this month in Itasca. During the next few months, the panel will continue to create and refine the network before full-scale testing in the fall.

"I'm very appreciative of the CDC for selecting me," Restivo said, "and I'm honored to be a part of it."