AN app that connected schools with thousands of families during a recent Australian cyclone is set to launch in North America.
School Star is an instant messaging app developed by South Australian company MGM Wireless, which includes an SMS-fallback system in case of emergencies.
More than 32,000 messages were sent to families from 175 schools last week informing them to pick their children up as Tropical Cyclone Debbie devastated the Australian state of Queensland.
Schools and businesses were forced to close as the category four storm included gusts of up to 263km/h, which damaged homes, caused floods and left more than 63,000 people without power.
MGM Wireless CEO Mark Fortunatow said the company had received significant interest from the general community following the ferocity of Cyclone Debbie.
He said the app’s success during the storm was an example of how effective it could be for disaster-prone areas of the United States ahead of the app’s North American launch in July.
“Messaging apps like Facebook and Whatsapp are great but not always suitable in emergency situations because if you look at school communities, not every parent will be on one of those systems,” Fortunatow said.
“School Star can send messages through on a daily basis and for those that don’t have the app, it sends the notifications through SMS instead.
“This means you have almost 100 per cent certainty you will reach all of the parents as tens of thousands of messages were sent in less than a minute during the cyclone.”
Once schools install School Star’s content management system they can enter in relevant news and information for parents.
Parents and students then register using a secure two-factor verification process that, once complete, allows users to access school information.
Only registered users from the current school database can use the school specific School Star app. It also allows the schools to ‘lock out’ unwanted users.
“It’s interesting because instant messaging has overtaken other forms of communication like emails, calling someone by phone or using a web browser,” Fortunatow said.
“As far as we know it’s the only product in the world with SMS-fallback as a safety net.
“That is a tremendous benefit to schools, especially in emergencies and they are coming on in record numbers.”
MGM Wireless invented the world’s first SMS-based Automated Communication Solution for schools in 2002 and its application is now being used in more than 1400 schools across Australia and New Zealand.
The company aims to make the app available worldwide and is set to launch School Star in the United States and Canada later this year.