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Alert! Ping4 raises $4M to develop its mobile emergency warning technology

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A lot of east coast readers were surprised late last week by a sudden cacophony of coordinated smartphone alerts, warning of the impending danger of snowstorm Nemo. Well, get used to them,  you’re going to start seeing more. Ping4, a New Hampshire-based startup designing these kinds of alert systems, raised an additional $4 million to extend the capabilities and reach of its emergency notification platform.

Ping4’s technology is a bit different from the Commercial Mobile Alerts System (CMAS) alerts that began popping up on our smartphones over the last six months. CMAS allows local and national authorities to broadcast alerts theoretically to any subscriber on any carrier, though in practice only a handful of phones in a limited number of cities (though as the GigaOM East office discovered last week Verizon’s New York network and the iPhone(s aapl) are on those lists).

Ping4 MEMA phone emergency alertsPing4’s technology is an opt-in technology, requiring the user to download its Ping4alerts! app, available for Android and iOS. While that means only smartphone users with the app can receive alerts, it also gives public safety agencies many more tools in tailoring alerts. The app receives both text and audio alerts as well as multimedia data. For instance, a dangerous weather alert can come embedded with a map of the most high-risk storm zones.

While CMAS can only alert phones connected to the cellular network, Ping4’s system can also send its alerts through Wi-Fi, allowing it to hook tablets into an emergency gird. Its hyper-local geo-fencing technology allows an agency to get very location-specific, targeting, for instance, only devices within a single building. Finally Ping4 allows two-way communications. If an agency sends out an Amber Alert on a missing child, anyone with information could immediately respond to the alert via anonymous text.

Ping4 started working with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency in October, just in time to send out severe weather warnings for Superstorm Sandy. The University of New Hampshire also uses the system for campus security alerts and student and faculty mass communications.

The $4 million in funding comes from private investors, not venture capital firms, and Ping4 wouldn’t reveal the identities of its new benefactors. In total, the company said it has raised $7 million from private placements.  It will use those funds to market its service to more emergency agencies and consumers as well as build up its fledgling location-based commerce business. The same hyper-local alerts technology can be used to deliver coupons and ads to consumers, giving Ping4 another tier to its business plan.