Brian Bittner, with Penn State Emergency division, refer to Zello as “the Low-Frequency Voodoo” (“L-F-V” for short). As Bittner explains, it's “because it is magic that we can talk through our computers.”
Zello has been working that magic on Bittner and Penn state since the spring of 2011. It was then that an emergency official from nearby Huntington County called Bittner to say, "I want to show you something. It’s an internet push-to-talk… and it’s crazy." For Penn State Emergency Management, it had better be. Bittner takes the lead in protecting 15,000+ students across 19 campuses from a range of major disasters. To do his job well, Bittner needs fast, clear communication. His first response to Zello was, “Wow! That’s really neat!”
Zello made its debut at a Penn State football game. Emergency Services typically monitors games from an operations booth above Beaver Stadium, keeping other campus safety services up-to-date on the events below. Problem is: “Our phone lines get busy because of football. And sometimes there are things I need to tell people that I don’t want to send out over the radio.”
The Low-Frequency Voodoo worked its magic on both problems. The immediacy of a radio, the privacy of a phone call, it soon became critical for primetime communication. Says Bittner, “Zello is there all the time. I know that no matter how much that phone is ringing, they can get in touch with us.”
After test runs on the football field, the Office of Emergency Management was ready to put the L-F-V into play on their own field. Last month, they experimented with push-to-talk at their Emergency Operations Center, where they train and test responses to simulated disasters. Now, if and when they come up against the real thing, they have one more line of communication in place.
“Thank God we haven’t had to use it in an emergency,” says Bittner, who envisions using the app to communicate with other offices in case phone lines are down. Because according to Bittner, “The thing about Emergency Management – It’s about backups to backups to backups.”
And the thing about Zello? “It’s there in case we need it.”