City business reaches 25 years

The origins behind Alert1, a Williamsport-based company celebrating a silver anniversary this year, are both interesting and uplifting.

The story goes that in 1988 city resident Paul Graafsma became concerned about his grandmother who was living alone.

He couldn’t bear the thought of there being no one around if something should happen to her.

Graafsma researched the market for personal medical alert systems but could find none affordable.

And so, he came up with his own device and launched a company.

“It’s pretty exciting that something I built outlived me as the CEO,” he recalled. “The name has lived on, and customers continue to get serviced. It kept growing and keeps growing and I love it.”

A quarter century later, the small, family-owned AlertOne is now Alert1.

With customers from coast to coast, it maintains its headquarters in Williamsport. Some 40 people working out of the office at 24 W. Fourth St. carry out various functions involving customer service, sales and overall operations. The company also maintains support staff for accounting and marketing in Santa Clara, Calif.

“We are growing. We really like it in Williamsport,” said Arar Han, co-CEO for Alert1. “Williamsport is the heart and soul of this business. We want to become the employer of choice.”

In 2008, Alert1 was acquired by ResponseLINK, and Graafsma remained a consultant to the company. Han noted the company actually began in Graafsma’s house.

“The founding story is a lot like many Silicon Valley startups,” she said. “He started hiring one or two people from his local church. It sort of started as a faith-based organization.”

Han said the company is now the fourth-largest of its kind and is approaching about 250,000 customers over the life of the company.

The mission of Alert1 is to help seniors live safely and independently in their own homes by providing affordable and reliable medical alert systems. Through the push of a button on the device, usually worn around the neck, seniors in need of help can alert emergency dispatchers following a fall, accident or other medical problem.

“We call it the POM and that stands for Peace of Mind. We are looking to add devices that have additional features,” Han said.

The alert device is hardly a new invention, but the experience of having that voice come out of its speaker is “a magical one,” she said.

The company stresses servicing its customers.

“We have been getting to know our customers, asking them what can we do better to speak with you more directly,” Han said. “We learn that senior citizens do not like to be called senior citizens. We want to be an awesome experience for people who are our members.”

She said the company’s 25-year anniversary is quite a milestone.

“I can’t wait to see what contributions this company will make in the next 25 years,” she said.

The company is involved in such charitable community organizations as the Second Harvest Food Bank, American Diabetes Association, and Breast Cancer Research.