Best Practices in Emergency Notification: “Should I send this message?”

There’s no doubt about using your Emergency Notification System (ENS) when there is an imminent threat to life or property. But what about alerts that are not really emergencies? Is it appropriate to use ENS for non-urgent notifications or to disburse general information?

Based on various sources we’ve researched, and including our own conversations and experience with Hyper-Reach clients, most users nationwide utilize their Emergency Notification Systems strictly for emergency situations.  But there are others that use their ENS for both emergency and non-emergency situations. So there are at least two schools of thought on this issue.

Even though there are a significant number of ENS users that are comfortable with sending non-emergency messages, we recommend that emergency managers take into account the potential pitfalls of using their ENS for non-emergency purposes. Flooding your citizens with information they perceive to be unimportant may annoy them, make them less likely to pay attention to future alerts, and worse yet, may lead them to unsubscribe altogether.

We don’t recommend using an ENS to notify the public about everything that happens in your community, such as the Fireman’s Carnival taking place next weekend, or to remind people to put out their trash or to read their water meters. But if you’ve got the blizzard of the century coming in and need folks to get their cars off the street for snow removal, that might be a perfect occasion to notify the public.

And even though we think ENS should be mostly used for notifying the public about emergencies and severe weather alerts, it can make sense to use an ENS for sending highly relevant non-emergency messages to prevent a dangerous situation from developing, such as notifying the public about unexpected road closures.   

And although it’s called an Emergency Notification System, many such systems can be used for non-emergency messages that won’t create citizen anxiety.  For example, Hyper-Reach allows you to post information (including images) quickly and easily to multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as to your web site(s), email accounts and other outlets without sending voice or text messages.  And because one message can be sent to all these outlets simultaneously through our single interface, you might find it an easy way to send non-emergency messages.

If you do decide to use your Emergency Notification System to send non-emergency messages, we encourage you to consider these guidelines:

  • Let your community know in advance that you might use ENS for non-emergency messages from time to time, especially if you’re going to use the voice and text messaging;
  • Give citizens a very limited choice about the type of messages they will receive.  (Why very limited?  Because lots of choices will reduce your signup rate and undermine the whole purpose of your ENS.  We’ll discuss that in a later post.)
  • Think about whether or not the urgency of the notification warrants sending phone and text messages;
  • Limit the frequency of non-urgent messages;
  • Make sure these messages are highly relevant and important;
  • Consider whether traditional media and/or social media outlets might be sufficient to notify the public if it’s not an emergency.

So what do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please click here to take our quick survey.

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