More than 1 million acres of Washington state were on fire this summer. Dealing with the blazes was so extensive, it brought firefighters from as far away as Australia and New Zealand and cost more than $250 million to contain the blazes. Among the areas affected was Stevens County. Thousands of people were evacuated from their homes and the county declared a state of emergency.
One tool emergency managers in Steven County had was a mass emergency notification system. From June to August, the county operations center used the Hyper-Reach system 84 times, delivering almost 20,000 messages. And over the course of those three months, the system became more and more effective as more and more citizens signed up to receive emergency alerts.
As a result, Stevens County is now on the leading edge of getting its citizens enrolled in an emergency alert system. More than 11,000 people out of an adult population of 35,000 have registered to receive emergency notifications. That’s an enrollment rate of over 30%, which far exceeds the average for most counties and cities throughout the United States. In fact, industry commentators consider 10% to be the maximum sign-up rate in most communities.
Given the success of the Stevens County enrollment effort, it’s important to look at the elements that led to such a high sign-up rate. Here are some of the key success factors according to local officials:
- Post the link to the sign-up page in as many places as possible. Hyper-Reach provides an online enrollment form on a page dedicated to Stevens County. Stevens County officials included the link to that form on the main page for the county website, the page for the Sheriff’s office, the fire district’s Facebook page and on most press releases sent out during the summer.
- Get others to help. The link to the form was also shared on information sheets from other agencies and websites, including the US Forest Service, nearby counties, the Spokane Indian reservation and others.
- Get the media involved. A news story on local station KHQ provided TV coverage of the value of the Hyper-Reach notifications. In the story, a local citizen is shown talking about receiving a warning and expressing his gratitude at being alerted. The web version of the story included the link to the registration page.
- Get the public involved. Many citizens shared the link via their personal social media, email and in other ways.
- Offer help when needed. The county’s operation center helped many citizens sign up when they did not have access to the online form or had difficulty filling it out.
But the biggest factor for the high sign-up rate was obviously the fires themselves and the use of the system. As the table below shows, enrollments spiked in August at the peak of the wildfires, and fell off dramatically in September, after the fires were contained and the number of alerts dropped off.
Hyper-Reach Enrollments and Alerts Delivered, Stevens County, WA 2015
Overall, Stevens County is grateful that it had an emergency alert system when it was needed. As 911 supervisor Rick Anderson noted, “when you’re sending alerts to your sister, your aunt or uncle, that’s very personal, and any losses can be very tough. The Hyper-Reach system does exactly what we needed to do, it works at getting the message out, and it fits in our budget. Hyper-Reach is so important that we’ve included it as a standard line item in our annual budgeting. We just need to keep going and get 100% of the community enrolled.”