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: https://nextdoor.com/agency/apply.

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. 

Snapshot:

  • 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 (mynbc15.com)

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.

The Toll On Mental Health from Natural Disasters

Many studies report that natural disasters have short-term and long-term mental health consequences, such as depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), anxiety, and suicide among disaster survivors. 

A recent study supports this point. It focused on survivors of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and reported that while “the strongest association to PTSS was from direct loss or injury”, previous hurricane-related loss or injury, previous mental health ailments, not evacuating from an evacuation zone, and even hurricane-related media exposure were also associated with a linear increase in PTSS.

So people who go through disasters experience negative mental health consequences both from direct stress and repeated exposure to disasters. In other words, some people become more susceptible to psychological symptoms with each disaster.

And due to climate change, natural disasters will become even more frequent and severe over the coming decades. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes and more are all expected to increase in frequency and severity. And the timing and location of these events is becoming less predictable. 

That’s why it’s important for emergency managers and first responders to take into account the possible negative impact of natural disasters on mental health and interfere whenever possible. Here’s how you can help your community decrease the negative effect of natural disasters on people’s mental health:

Start by reaching out to your community mental health service organizations and determine the best ways to help them inform your community before a disaster strikes:

  • You might ask them to communicate the possible negative effect of natural disasters on mental health and create materials that can be communicated through the alert system, using links and phone numbers. 
  • Leverage mental health organizations’ sites and social media accounts and your own local government website and social media. Ask local mental health providers to include links to your signup page and website, while you promote their online presence.
  • These organizations can also help you to locate people with serious mental illnesses before disaster hits and provide them with needed support during an evacuation. 
  • Monitor the mental health of first responders and recovery workers and refer them to local support organizations. Continue to follow up with them after traumatic events and remember that recovery can take months and even years.

Here are some other useful resources both for first responders and survivors:

  1. Behavioral Health Resources | SAMHSA….
  2. Crisis Text Line – ResponderStrong 
  3. Help Line | Frontline Responder Services (frontlinerehab.com)
  4. Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
  5. Emotional Recovery | Disaster Relief | Red Cross
  6. Lifeline (988lifeline.org)

The Power of Simple

We believe that innovation does not require complexity. In fact, the most successful innovations are often the simplest. 

Most people aren’t aware that the first iteration of Instagram, the photo-sharing mobile app, was a complicated and feature-laden app called “Burbn”. CEO Kevin Systrom stepped back and cut out the clutter, paring it down into something people could understand and use in 30 seconds. Snap a photo, choose a filter to transform it into a work of art, and quickly share it through social media. Result? Instagram amassed two million users in only four months, a rate of growth faster than Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter at the time, and was then famously acquired by Facebook.

While we have a long history of “firsts” in Emergency Notification innovation, we also work hard at keeping our system as simple as possible. Here are some examples of firsts and how we kept things simple:

  • As the first hosted mass notification systems, we eliminated the need for separate computers, phone lines and software;
  • With Google Maps to target alerts, the system is instantly familiar and easy to learn;
  • Our fully automated weather notifications eliminates the need for staff to manually send those out;
  • We were the first to send IPAWS messages AND we made it a seamless part of the system to allow including WEA messages as part of the same workflow;
  • Providing a local caller-ID for voice calls made it easier for citizens to know the call was local;
  • Combining phone and text to the same number to simplify the promotion of community sign-up;
  • Easily integrating the delivery of emergency alerts through Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

The benefit to you is a simpler, easier-to-use system that anyone can be trained to use in just a few hours. Which means you can send messages faster and spend less time in training. You can even send a message on the go with our Hyper-Reach Launch app. And it’s fully integrated with IPAWS.

With a system that’s designed to be simple, mistakes are difficult to make.  Hyper-Reach uses a simple three-step process that makes sending a message a snap. It’s so simple that users of other systems tell us that it’s the easiest, fastest, simplest system they have seen.

We appreciate… the ease of use of the interface. The IPAWS interface is particularly efficient and easy, when compared to similar solutions.”, – Eric. H, Emergency Manager

“The App is the easiest way to send a message.” – Jacques Thibodeaux, Emergency Preparedness Director

It is simple enough for us to use daily, but is capable of expanding as needed during our peak times.”  – Robert G., EMA Director

The best systems offer lots of capability while keeping their systems simple and easy to use. That’s why we are determined to remain the easiest-to-use full-featured emergency mass notification service. 

Your ENS should help you and your staff work smarter, not harder. Which is why we don’t have a “University” for training. Anyone with a high school diploma can use our system. 

And the same applies to your residents. Signing up should be as easy as saying “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach”. 

To see our system in action, book our free online demo today. 

Request a Demo

Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

We just signed up to participate in a forecasting tournament on the topic of global existential risk. Over the next few months, we’ll be making forecasts on the probability of disasters such as nuclear catastrophe, massive droughts and biological weapon attacks. This is the second forecasting tournament we’ve competed in over the last five years. They’re a great motivator for researching the issues that you’re preparing for in emergency management. 

These tournaments are university-sponsored research projects designed to determine – among other things – how well “normal” people can predict future events and how their predictions compare with experts. According to the research, many lay people make predictions that outperform people who have spent years studying a topic.

One key to successful forecasting, according to this research – is whether a person is a “fox” or a “hedgehog.”  The analogy describes a fox as someone who can change their opinions relatively easily based on research and competing points of view. A hedgehog, by contrast, is someone who has a distinct world view and interprets information to fit that world view. They tend to be rigid in their beliefs and unwilling or unable to adapt to new information. 

We think the world has a role for both foxes and hedgehogs. And there are probably times when it’s appropriate to switch from one approach to another. But if your job requires you to estimate the likelihood of disaster situations, predict how people will respond to different situations and determine the best mitigation strategies – or to hire someone with those responsibilities – there’s a lot to recommend being a fox. 

How an Automated Call-In Hotline Can Help You When the Heat is On (or Off)

One of our latest products is an automated hotline to help you communicate with residents during an emergency.  It’s a pretty simple idea: you record a message with information you want the public to know and publicize the phone number. People call in to hear your message, which can be easily updated as the situation changes. 

Because we have effectively unlimited call-in capacity, there’s never a busy signal. And because it’s automated, it won’t take up valuable staff time. 

Unlike web-based communications, your residents don’t need to have a computer or be able to read to access the service. Which makes it perfect for the elderly and other populations that don’t have easy access to the Internet. You can even record the message in multiple languages or use a different number for Spanish, for example. 

Last winter Madison County, Virginia had a big power outage when it was very cold, requiring them to get the word out on shelter resources and the status of the electric system. And the hotline worked well for them.  

As Brian Gordon, the Director of Emergency Communications put it:  “The Hotline takes pressure off of vital dispatch staff and EM. It allows for the flow of information that we don’t have to actively monitor during emergency situations.” 

We should also mention that the hotline is highly cost-effective. A one-year subscription will cost you less than your cable bill. To find out more, book our demo.

Request a Demo