Sending Alerts Through Alexa-Enabled Smart Speakers

We’re always looking for new ways to deliver alerts to the public, which is why we developed an interface with Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker. 

With the Hyper-Reach Alexa interface, you can send messages to your residents who enable Hyper-Reach on their Alexa-enabled devices. Those include Amazon’s Echo devices, but also much more, including speakers from Sonos, Bose and Bang & Olufsen. All a user has to do is say “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach” and follow Amazon’s instructions. There’s no cost to your residents, and this feature is included in all of our public safety packages, so there’s no extra cost to you. 

Smart speakers are an important – and growing – way for people to communicate. There are more Alexa-enabled devices than home telephones and that keeps increasing every year as people disconnect their landlines and smart speakers continue to grow. 

And the value of smart speakers goes beyond just the number of people you can reach. As we point out in this month’s issue, Alexa is a useful way to reach people with access issues, such as visually impaired and physically disabled folks.  So Hyper-Reach’s Alexa capability lets you reach people in your community who are especially difficult to reach. 

We’ll keep working on new ways to help you reach your residents. To find out more about Alexa and how you can use it, book a demo or ask your Hyper-Reach customer service representative.

Extreme weather forecasts can save lives — but that doesn’t mean the public always listens

Extreme weather forecasts can save lives — but only if people listen and respond. The best forecast is useless if people don’t act on the information, a reality that applies as well to emergency alerts. So we did a roundup on what experts are saying about why people ignore or respond inappropriately to weather warnings. 

Normalcy bias or optimism bias

Normalcy bias, or normality bias, is a cognitive bias which leads people to disbelieve or minimize threat warnings. Consequently, individuals underestimate the likelihood of a disaster, when it might affect them, as well as its potential adverse effects

Normalcy bias makes it difficult for us to engage in “worst-case” thinking and plan for a serious failure or disaster. This kind of bias causes people to assume that, although a catastrophic event has happened to others, it will not happen to them. People often base their decisions on previous experiences, such as other storms they’ve lived through. 

Part of the challenge is that forecasts are uncertain, so the area covered by a warning is necessarily larger than the area that’s actually affected. Most people who receive warnings don’t experience the actual event, which can cause them to discount future warnings.  For tornadoes, for example, meteorologist Dr. Kim Klockow-McClain puts it this way, “Even within a given event, less than 1 per cent of the spatial extent of a tornado-warned area will actually experience a tornado, and about 70 per cent of all tornado warnings will result in false alarms.”

The consequences can be deadly. In 2011, one of the deadliest tornadoes in US history in Joplin, Missouri, killed 158 people and injured more than 1,000 others. NOAA’s assessment of the relevant NWS warnings and forecasts found that some residents had become desensitized, and that “initial siren activation has lost a degree of credibility for many residents.”

About 70% of people reportedly display normalcy bias during a disaster. The normalcy bias can manifest in response to warnings about disasters and actual catastrophes.

The challenge of “probability” and how people process information

Translating weather risks and emergency alerts into terms the public can understand is important, but difficult. 

Dr. Marshall Shepherd – director of the University of Georgia’s atmospheric sciences program – talked about this challenge on an NPR podcast “The Science of Extreme Weather” (The Pulse : NPR). 

For example, he talked about the “cone of uncertainty” – the projected path and intensity of a hurricane or tropical storm – a concept that can be hard for people to wrap their heads around and is often misconstrued. The cone suggests a 2 out of 3 chance that anywhere within that cone will be the center of the storm. For many people, this is not an easy idea to grasp.

In one example, a TV reporter went to grocery stores in Sarasota, Florida, 3 days prior to Hurricane Ian making landfall to see how people were preparing. The folks she interviewed were “just doing their regular shopping”. Nobody seemed especially worried. Sarasota was in the “cone of uncertainty”. 

Some experts believe that most people do not ignore the information they get in warnings.  Dr. Jen Henderson, with the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences says, “…from the interviews and focus groups we’ve done, people are not complacent. They’re all taking action, it’s just not the actions we’d expect or we can see.”  Julie Demuth at the National Center for Atmospheric Research agrees: “For the most part, people don’t disregard weather warnings. But that doesn’t mean they’re always going to do what we want them to do.”

As a practitioner, it’s worth noting that the academics don’t all agree. Dr. Shepherd thinks the public and policymakers need to be trained on how to consume information better. But Susan Joslyn, associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington disagrees. She studies the way people make choices when given weather information. “People can’t absorb and use information unless it’s tailored to how they’re thinking about it and their decisions. To evacuate or not.” Professor Joslyn believes that people can handle more complexity than they are given credit for. 

Despite the lack of consensus, we can hope that continued research will help make information more relevant and impactful.  As an article on the Weather Network puts it: “Bridging that gap — between basic weather information and peoples’ response to it — is a key area of research for the future of severe weather communication…”

There’s no easy solution to the challenges here. Data from the 2020 NHS Data Digest, suggests that the rate at which the adult population becomes prepared or maintains preparedness for emergencies has stalled over the years, despite the fact that extreme weather events are becoming more common and more extreme. So there’s a critical need to encourage, guide, and assist individuals and communities to move from thinking about a potential emergency and actually doing something about it. 

One benefit of emergency alert systems such as Hyper-Reach is that you can deliver information to residents in a highly localized and specific way. And you can use the alert system to tell residents exactly what actions you want them to take. 

Greater precision might give you the ability to communicate more effectively with the public. Dr. Joslyn’s research shows that most people can understand numeric likelihoods, so that if they’re told there’s a 20 or 30 percent chance of something happening, they make better decisions than they might have made without this information.

Joslyn’s work implies that it’s better for people to have the numeric information because they’re going to make their own estimates anyway, based on past experiences. If they’ve experienced false alarms in the past, they may end up underestimating the risk, but more accurate information about risks and uncertainty can reduce the misestimating – and that could save lives.

Taking the message to where people are – on social media

Traditional media such as radio and cable television, is on the decline, particularly among younger residents. More and more people are consuming content on social media. And that’s both a challenge and an opportunity for emergency managers trying to get their message out. 

We live in a world where 53% of Americans get their news from social media.  And that number is growing.

In 2022, there were an estimated 270 million active social media users in the United States. That’s about 81% of the total US population, a number that grew 12.5% compared to the previous year.

Facebook is the most popular social network in the US, with 228 million active users. There are 186 million active Instagram users, and TikTok is popular and growing among adults under 30.

The average Facebook user spends approximately 20 hours on the app per month and overall social media usage is estimated at more than 60 hours per month. 

With the development of modern society social media has evolved into a viable communication tool in all aspects of life including emergency notifications. And that’s why many Emergency Managers already use social media when sending important messages to their community. 

We agree that social media is a great tool to share your information if it’s used as an integral piece of an overall communication strategy. Here’s why:

  1. Milling. People automatically turn to social media and the Internet to gather more information to both learn new things and to confirm information they’ve received.  Emergency managers use the term “milling” to describe when people try to confirm an alert or other emergency communication. And social media is an important way for people to find confirming information. 
  1. Snowballs.  Social media gets repeated among its recipients, a phenomenon called the social media snowball effect.  Even if a post initially reaches only 10% of its intended audience, it has the potential to reach many times that number. People tend to share information they consider valuable with their friends and family and each of those recipients can share that information in turn.  And social media lets them do it instantly with only one click across different social tools
  1. Growth. There are more social media channels than there were 10 years ago and we’d bet good money there will be more in another 10 years. Two examples are TikTok and  Nextdoor. We are especially excited about Nextdoor because it’s built around neighborhoods, which makes it perfect for geo-targeted alert messages. And Nextdoor has a service for public agencies that lets you send messages to everyone in your jurisdiction without needing them to follow you. As one head of emergency services put it: “DO NOT ignore this platform.  It is growing and agencies who work with NextDoor have direct access to subscribers”  In fact, we’re so excited about Nextdoor, we built an integration, which you can read about here.

Some emergency notification providers think that social media should not be considered as an emergency notification tool because of some of its limitations. For example, one emergency notification provider argues that social media should not be used for sending out emergency alerts and community notifications because it does not reach people reliably. For example, a Facebook post will only reach people if they are connected to Facebook and had liked your page previously. Your posts might or might not appear in their news feed and you might reach only about 10% of your population. 

What this argument misses is that social media is one tool in a tool kit.  And you don’t use a hammer when you need to drill a hole. 

Social media can be a great tool for sharing information. But, you should not rely on it as your only means of sending out emergency alerts. Consider it as a part of your communication plan and use it in a bundle with other proven emergency communication channels such as:  text messages, calls, IPAWS WEA alerts etc. That way you will fill in possible gaps and cover as many people as possible. 

Hyper-Reach emergency notification system integrates with the most popular social media channels for sharing emergency & community alerts such as Facebook, Twitter and – now – Nextdoor.  We also give you access to every other tool, so you have the most powerful of toolkits. To discover more, book our demo.

More accessible emergency alerts for people with disabilities

To be as effective as possible, emergency alert and notification systems need to reach as many people as they can. This includes folks with access and functional needs, such as disabilities that make it difficult to respond to emergencies quickly. 

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) defines access and functional needs as including older individuals and people with physical, sensory, behavioral, mental health, intellectual, developmental and cognitive disabilities. Also included are people with limited English language skills, access to transportation, and/or financial resources to prepare for, respond to and recover from an emergency. And that’s a lot of people. 

According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), the United States counts around 61 million adults with disabilities. That’s about 1 in 4 adults, or roughly the population of Italy.

47.7 million of Americans have some hearing disabilities and 56.4 million people have some difficulty seeing.  Emergency alerts often overlook these vulnerable populations, which means that people with disabilities often encounter communications that are inadequate or effectively unavailable. This study by the National Council of Disabilities looked at several major disasters, including Hurricane Sandy and the Boston Marathon bombings, and outlined these common barriers to effective communication during emergencies:

● Televised emergency announcements by officials that do not include American Sign Language interpreters;

● Inaccessible emergency notification systems;

● Inaccessible evacuation maps;

● Websites with emergency information that is not accessible to screen readers used by people who are blind or have low vision;

● Shelters at which no one is able to communicate with people who are deaf or hard of hearing;

● Emergency communication using language that is inaccessible to people with intellectual or developmental disabilities and people with limited English proficiency. 

According to this fact sheet on aging in the United States created by the Population Reference Bureau, the number of Americans ages 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060, and the 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16 percent to 23 percent. And while many older people stay sharp and capable, an older population means more people with diminished eyesight, hearing, mobility and thinking skills. 

This Emergency communication survey from 2014 shows how people with disabilities received, verified, and shared emergency alert information during their most recent public alert:

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Because the survey is a few years old, we believe that the use of smartphone apps, IM and other web-based services has increased. But the general point remains: the more notification channels you use the better your chance to cover those with access and functional needs.  As the National Association for the Deaf puts it “There is no “one” system that is best for alerting citizens in an emergency. …the message should be sent out to as many people and in as many formats as possible (by television, radio, phone/TTY, computer, cell phone, text messaging, pager, and other means).”

As an emergency service provider, we’ve been working hard to make our Hyper-Reach notification system as accessible as possible:

  • We use as many notification channels as possible to send out a message: text, phone calls, social media, IPAWS, browser push notifications, and Alexa.
  • Our telephone calling capability fully supports TTY/TDD messaging.
  • Alexa is especially helpful for people with vision and mobility problems, because of its touch-free audio interface. One commentator called Alexa “the most successful product on the planet” for accessibility for the blind and others have noted how valuable it is for folks with physical disabilities. 
  • Our IPAWS interface gives you access to the Emergency Alert System for broadcast channels, such as TV and radio. 
  • And with Google Translate we let you send your message in almost any language that people use. 
  • Our new interface with Nextdoor adds even more, by making it easy to deliver messages that can then be spread from neighbor to neighbor. 
  • We also make it as easy as possible to enroll in emergency alerts.  For example, we give you a call-in number that lets people without computers or computer skills enroll with just a phone call. 
  • And Hyper-Reach has an automated hotline, which lets you record a message with information you want the public to know. People call in to hear your message, which can be easily updated as the situation changes. Your residents don’t need a computer or even be able to read to access the service. So it’s perfect for the elderly, those with vision impairment, and the illiterate. You can even record the message in multiple languages. 

We’re focused on making Hyper-Reach the best system for reaching the most people – with and without disabilities, access or functional needs. And we’re always looking for new ways to help.  So if you’ve got a suggestion, drop us a note at  Or for a demo, click here. 

And if you want to do even more, consider Deaf Link, whose Accessible Hazard Alert System can deliver messages as videos in American Sign Language. 

New Social Media Integration: Nextdoor!

Have you heard about Nextdoor, the social media network for neighbors and neighborhoods?  It’s an exciting social media network that offers great potential for public agencies of all types, including public safety, emergency management and 911. 

And to help you get the most out of that potential, Hyper-Reach is the first and only mass notification provider to offer an integration with Nextdoor. That’s important, because Nextdoor reaches almost 1 in 3 US households on their mobile devices and laptops. And, unlike other social media tools, you don’t need to get people to follow you to get your message out. As one head of emergency services put it: “DO NOT ignore this platform.  It is growing and agencies who work with NextDoor have direct access to subscribers, unlike FB…”  And Nextdoor is FREE for public agencies to use. 

Nextdoor is different from other social media networks because it’s built around neighborhoods.  When you join Nextdoor as a resident, you provide your home address, which is verified by the company. Then messages you send out are shared with everyone in your neighborhood. 

People use Nextdoor for all kinds of reasons: to find a lost pet, source local contractors or share community news. And public agencies can get a special account that lets them share important local news with their residents. 

The Hyper-Reach Nextdoor integration makes it easy to add Nextdoor as a distribution method for emergency alerts. With one click, users are on the Nextdoor platform and posting their message. 

To use the Nextdoor integration, your agency first needs a free Nextdoor public agency account. If you already have a public agency account, that’s great. If not, you can apply here:

Once you have your public agency account, your Hyper-Reach customer service manager or account manager can turn on the Nextdoor integration and walk you through how to use it. And like almost all value-added features of the Hyper-Reach system – such as automated weather alerts, unlimited user accounts, IPAWS integration and much more – there’s no added cost to the 

Nextdoor integration feature. 

For more information or a demo of the Hyper-Reach system, click here

Feature of the Month: Message Templates

Since one of this month’s stories is about getting messages out faster, we wanted to highlight our message template feature, which lets you create pre-structured messages so you can send alerts out faster, better and consistently. 

And since emergency management managers know the importance of being prepared, we know this is a feature that appeals to most of our customers. 

With message templates you can create a message with “tokens” that represent the blanks in a “fill-in-the-blank scheme. 

For example, a wildfire evacuation notice might look like this: 

“Wildfire Evacuation. Leave now. There is a wildfire heading {direction} from {location} at the rate of {x} miles per hour. Your home is in danger. Please leave no later than {time}.”

To use such a message, the user is then prompted to provide the direction, location, x, and time information. 

As we’ve suggested in the past, your templates should follow the Milleti guidelines for message elements.

With Hyper-Reach message templates, you can prepare for any emergency and send high-quality, consistent messages with a minimum of time.

Hyper-Reach Helps County Avoid Problems from Multi-Vehicle Highway Collision

Quick thinking and the right tool helps divert traffic on major interstate taking pressure off vital first responders, preventing congestion and avoiding possible secondary accidents. 


  • Brian Burgess, Williamson County EMA
  • Using Hyper-Reach Mass Notification System, Williamson County EMA alerted the community to avoid the area of a multi-car accident near the intersection of I-57 and I-24
  • Results:
    • Emergency alerts provided travelers the information needed to avoid the area 
    • Major congestion avoided 
    • Pressure taken off of first responders and emergency personnel  

Williamson County, in southern Illinois, is located at the intersection of I- 57 and I-24. This area has high traffic volumes (~2000 cars/hour) and any disruption to traffic flow can cause a backup of 30-40 miles and a lots of issues for both drivers and responders. Traffic slowdowns can cause injuries in a variety of ways: 

  • They create an unsafe environment for responders. According to FEMA, 16 emergency responders have been killed in struck-by incidents in the first 3 months of 2022. Last year, 65 emergency responders were struck and killed while assisting others on roadways. An unknown number of others were injured. Alleviating congestion helps to provide protection for incident victims and responders. 
  • Drivers may seek to make the most of a slowdown and engage in distracting behaviors, such as reading, texting, or making phone calls. The stop-and-go pattern of a traffic jam can lead to rear-end accidents, as one car piles into another due to inattention.
  • High congestion levels can also lead to an increase in traffic incidents due to closer vehicle spacing and overheating of vehicles during summer months.
  • When it is rush hour, drivers may take chances they should not take as they rush and hurry to work or to get home on time. When drivers are in a hurry to get somewhere, congestion can be particularly hazardous.

Recently, a multi-tractor and multi-car accident occurred near that intersection in WIlliamson County which shut down both the North and Southbound lanes – creating the potential for a hazardous situation and additional emergency situations. Williamson County EMA Director Brian Burgess, knowing the possible risks, used their Hyper-Reach mass emergency notification system to quickly create an alert for that area alerting drivers to avoid the area and find an alternate route. 

“As soon as I heard, I knew that travelers north of the county line to south would need to be alerted so that anyone in the area could find an alternate route”, said Burgess.   

Director Burgess’ quick thinking provided travelers in the area advance notification alleviating any extreme congestion. Once both directions were re-opened, the Incident Commander praised Director Burgess’ decision to send out the alert. “Please do that every time”, he said.

Should local jurisdictions get their own notification system?

Many local jurisdictions rely on their county notification system when it comes to alerting their citizens.

Relying on the county to send notifications or provide access to a notification system can save local governments money.  But when every second counts, your county’s emergency alert system may not be the best solution.

And with climate change, hurricanes, wildfires, tornados and other natural disasters becoming more frequent and less predictable, emergency alerting authorities need to get out the word faster and more precisely. 

For example, we’re aware of a recent incident where Orange County, CA’s notification  system – AlertOC – was less than effective in warning residents of a wildfire in their jurisdiction. 

A family from the city of Laguna Niguel complained they never received alerts from the ALERTOC system although both parents were signed up for it. Fortunately, one of them – Mike Selvidge – got a text from the city of Laguna Beach, whose alerts he’d signed up for because their house sits right on the border of the two cities. 

When asked why the Orange County sheriff’s department didn’t send out any messaging at the time of the fire, the sheriff’s office said they were focused on door-to-door evacuations. 

And that’s not the only case where a county emergency notification service failed in notifying their residents because of limitations, lack of coordination, bad information, or wrong decisions. We’ve found other examples all over the country:

During the 2017 fires in Sonoma County, officials chose not to utilize WEAs because they were worried about triggering a mass exodus from the region. They did, however, use a different system that allowed them to tailor the outreach. But by the time these alerts were sent, 80 cell phone towers were badly damaged or knocked out entirely, crippling the ability of the message to reach residents.

In 2018 Tennessee, Sevier County officials admitted that emergency alerts were not sent out at all ahead of a wildfire that spread through Gatlinburg, killing 13 people. The officials blamed a breakdown in communication between the city of Gatlinburg, the National Park Service and the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency “due to disabled phone, internet and electrical services.”

So how can local jurisdictions speed up their notification process?:

1. Get your own mass notification system. Having your own system gives you more control over your alerts and reduces the ambiguity caused by overlapping jurisdictions. And you’ll be able to send out the alerts as soon as you think they need to be sent. 

2. Include IPAWS as part of your notification system as well. FEMA has made great progress with the precision of geo-targeting and other alerting features of WEA messages. WEA messages can be sent to every single mobile phone in the affected area regardless whether a person is registered for alerts or not. And IPAWS can give you access to other outlets that can survive when cell phone towers are out. 

3. Use advanced features like message templates to be prepared. With message templates, you can have your messages ready to go and just add the specifics of a situation (location, time, etc.).  Hyper-Reach lets you create unlimited, highly flexible message templates to cover every situation.

Feature of the Month: Local Caller ID

Every once in a while we get asked by a customer if we can do something they’ve seen or heard of in another emergency notification system.  And almost always, it’s an existing feature of the Hyper-Reach system.  Sometimes it’s something we’ve had for years. 

Because Hyper-Reach has so many features and benefits and it can be hard to keep track of them all, we’ve decided to focus on one new feature each month, mostly as a reminder that they are available to you, usually at no additional cost, as part of your Hyper-Reach system. 

This month, let’s talk about our local Caller ID feature. With local Caller ID, we can display a local number as the caller ID when we call your residents. This lets them know that the call is coming from someone in their area and is less likely to get ignored by residents as a spam call. We can even display your agency name as the originator of the call – although that won’t show up on some phones. And for a small additional fee, we can provide you with more than one local caller ID, to identify other agencies or departments within your jurisdiction. 

So if you don’t have a local caller ID number established for your account, or would like additional numbers, just call your Hyper-Reach sales or support contact. We’ll be glad to get you set up. 

Sirens Giving Way to Emergency Alert Systems

Emergency notification systems historically serve to provide warnings about emerging threats to give people enough time to protect themselves and the people they love. 

In the United States and in many places across the world sirens became commonplace following World War II. In 1970 these same sirens were given a second responsibility, to warn people of tornadoes. And once the Cold War ended, sirens were primarily used for tornado warnings.

Technology has changed a lot since 1970. 

Increasingly in the past decade, we are seeing more and more emergency preparedness experts warn that outdoor warning sirens are becoming obsolete. We are also seeing a pattern of counties that are retiring their outdoor sirens (even in places like Oklahoma where sirens are used widely across the state) and moving toward more modern ways of weather and other emergency notifications, such as Hyper-Reach, which combines text messages, voice calls and email with Wireless Emergency Alerts, smartphone apps and even advanced communication tools, such as browser alerts and smart speakers.

This trend is not limited to the United States. A recent article in CNN  profiles France, which is putting a WEA-like system in place. Referring to sirens, an official in Normandy noted, “We can’t manage 21st century crises with a 20th century tool.”

Earlier this year, Mobile County Alabama announced that their outdoor warning sirens will not be repaired or replaced and the system will cease operating this year. The county is strongly encouraging their citizens to engage more precise and efficient means of receiving location-based emergency alerts Mobile County to phase out outdoor warning sirens | WPMI (

Mobile County’s oldest outdoor warning siren has been in service since 1954 and the newest since 2016. Four of the outdoor warning sirens became operational in the 1950s and most are more than 20 years old. 

“Spending an estimated $15 million to update a system established around the time of World War II is not an effective use of resources, particularly when wireless emergency alerts, smartphone apps and weather radios provide faster, more location-pinpointed information,” said Mobile County Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Mike Evans, who coordinated the cost-benefit analysis.

While sirens will continue to be used in many areas as an important method of outdoor notification, there are benefits of using a MNS in conjunction with outdoor sirens.  Limitations of sirens include:  

  • Sirens tell us something is happening, but not what. Emergency notifications give specific details that sirens cannot relay. 
  • Although some people may be able to hear these sirens inside of their homes, sirens may not be loud enough to wake people who are sleeping or be heard in all circumstances.
  • Not all areas of an alert area are, or ever could be, covered by outdoor warning sirens. Most sirens have a coverage area of between 2/3rd and 3/4ths of a mile radius and area topography prevents these from being an effective warning system for outlying areas, which is why they are found in more populated areas.

By comparison, emergency alert systems can deliver specific, targeted information that reaches people effectively.  As John Harsh, Emergency Management Director, Morrow County OH told us, 

“We’ve found that when severe weather alerts come through, Hyper-Reach has sent a notification up to a minute and a half faster than we can even get the warning sirens going and people are already in their safe space.”   

With severe weather events and other emergency situations increasing in frequency and severity, we’re not suggesting that anyone give up the tools they have available to alert the public. So enhancing a  working siren system with emergency alerts makes sense to us. But since resources will always be limited, if a county has to choose between a mass notification system and a siren system, we think the choice is obvious.