Increasing role of Emergency Notification System

Recent years have been memorable for large and increasingly damaging wildfires in California, Washington and other western states and destructive hurricanes in Texas, Puerto Rico, North Carolina and Florida.

It has been over a month since hurricane Florence hit the Carolinas but its impact is still being felt, and will be for some time. The storm set a new rainfall record in North Carolina and left about 1 million people without power.  A few weeks later, category 4 hurricane Michael caused 19 deaths in four states as of Tue, Oct. 16. Former National Hurricane Center (NHC) head Rick Knabb said: “Michael could be one of the worst hurricanes to ever strike the Florida Big Bend/Florida Panhandle region”.

Some experts believe that natural disasters such as wildfires, hurricanes and flooding are likely to become more frequent and severe in the future. Which is all the more reason to do everything we can to prepare for such severe weather events.

As an emergency notification provider, we are aware of the difficulties Emergency Managers deal with during natural disasters. One of the biggest challenges is in notifying the community quickly and effectively about the dangers, and providing citizens with important up-to-date information and instructions.

With a growing number of severe weather events, more and more Emergency Managers rely on their emergency notification systems (ENS) to notify the public, since they can reach thousands of people in just minutes with potentially life-saving information and instructions. But even if you have an ENS in place it’s only half the battle. It’s critical that you get as many  of your citizens as possible to sign up for emergency alerts, since the vast majority of people no longer use landlines.

Experience shows that the number of subscribers goes up after a major emergency has already happened and caused big damage or even loss of lives. It’s unfortunate that it takes a catastrophe to get people’s attention, but to some degree that’s just human nature. On the other hand, it is still a great opportunity to raise your community enrollment rate before another emergency strikes.

That’s why it’s so important to use all the means available to you to enroll your community members. It’s important to make sure they have all the options presented to them, and that you don’t give up on getting them enrolled. Let them sign up in a way they’ll feel comfortable with.  One of the groups at greatest risk is the elderly, which is why it’s so important to give them options that work for them.

Here are some of the other most common obstacles holding people back from registering with your emergency notification system:

  • Ignorance: Some simply are not aware that you have a notification system in place and that they need to register if they want to receive emergency alerts.
  • Language barrier: They may not know that alerts are available in their own language.
  • Difficulty:  The registration link is hard to find.
  • Time restraints:  The registration process is too lengthy or complicated.
  • Fear of too many notifications:  They don’t want irrelevant or unnecessary notifications and don’t want to be awakened during late night hours

Hyper-Reach offers a number of enrollment methods to help its clients to develop a successful outreach campaign.  When all the options are utilized effectively, we find our clients can greatly increase their enrollment rates.

Hyper-Reach is also seamlessly integrated with FEMA’s IPAWS technology, allowing authorized clients to use IPAWS WEA messages to fill in the gaps so they can reach just about all the residents and visitors in an affected area, even if they haven’t registered for emergency alerts or are just passing through the affected community.

Find out more about how Hyper-Reach goes above and beyond in helping you enroll your community. Request a demo now.

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KEEPING IT FRESH. Hyper-Reach: Relentless Pioneers in Emergency Notification

You may not be aware of just how innovative we are at Hyper-Reach, but we have a long history of “firsts” in Emergency Notification!

  • first to offer a hosted mass notification system
  • first to send a message to be broadcast by IPAWS
  • first to fully automate weather notifications
  • first to provide specific local caller-ID for voice notifications
  • first to provide conferencing/ call-forwarding options
  • first to provide managed recipient response options
  • first to reply with last message sent in response to *66 calls and “missed call” callbacks
  • first to provide community sign-up via Phone/Text to same #
  • first to offer the most accurate geo-targeting by combining the most current data with Google maps functionality

I know that’s not even all of them…  that’s just off the top of my head. In some of these cases it’s not just “first” but is still “only” and a good number of these features are still not available with most, if not all, of our competitors.

Now we don’t brag a lot, and we don’t advertise a lot. It’s more our style to build relationships with our clients and find personal ways to make connections. It may be a little bit slower that way, and we may not be the biggest vendor in our space, but we have an excellent offering, and by keeping our costs down, we can offer our clients a better value than they will find elsewhere. We’ll never be too big for our britches.

You may have seen this quote on our brochures or proposals:

OUR COMMITMENT:

We never compromise our standards. Determined to remain the easiest-to-use full-featured emergency mass notification service, we are committed to treating our customers with speed, intelligence, and courtesy.

And we mean it.  

So we listen to our clients when they tell us what they’d “like to have” and if it makes sense on a broader scale, we incorporate it into our platform.  Sometimes we even come up with an idea or two of our own!

We are always adding new features and tools, improving existing ones, and developing some pretty neat stuff to make your lives easier when sending out notifications, and give you added functionality so you can get more value out of your Emergency Notification System. Here are just a few of the most recent additions.

Dynamic Lists:  Eliminating the need to manage group lists, your dynamic lists will update themselves!  So much easier than having to maintain your internal group lists.

Hyper-Reach Launch:  It’s easier than 1-2-3… now you can launch and track your notifications quickly and easily from your iOS or Android device, no matter where you are.

Pop-Ups:  Community members can respond to pop-up suggestions on your web site, to opt-in for pop-up notifications.  Quick and easy and extends your reach.

Message Templates:  Talk about getting a message out fast!  Our new Message Templates allow you to grab and go – just fill in the blanks with the details and send it out!

If you’d like to learn more and see these features and others in a live web demo, we’d love to give you a closer look! Just request our demo here.

Request a Demo

And if you’re already a Hyper-Reach client and want to get more familiar with our latest features just let us know and we’ll be glad to do a training update and show you how to get more from your system by utilizing these newest capabilities.

Hurricane Season is here! Are your notifications ready?

The hurricane season has begun. NOAA recently released their 2018 hurricane predictions – the season will be average or slightly above the norm. The forecast indicates a 70% chance of seeing between 5 and 9 hurricanes, with a total of 10-16 named storms.

It’s still impossible to precisely predict the number of hurricanes that will hit the coast, and even harder to predict how strong they will become or the extent of the damage they will cause. “There are no strong climate signals saying it’s going to be extremely active, like last year, or extremely weak,” Gerry Bell, a lead forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, recently told reporters. Because history has shown that the effects of such storms can be devastating, preparedness is critical.  

The good thing is that unlike some other severe weather hazards, we usually have advance notice of hurricanes, so usually, there’s time for some preparation. As an Emergency Notification System provider, we’d like to focus on how to prepare an effective communication plan for the hurricane season and how your Emergency Notification System may help you with that.

Since you don’t get a chance to edit the weather alerts sent out by the National Weather Services, you’ll want to fill in the gaps by providing your community with detailed instructions and updated information during a hurricane. So we highlighted these 3 steps that we hope will help you to do that:

Step 1 – Prepare before the hurricane season begins:

Although the hurricane activity can’t be predicted precisely, we recommend that you don’t wait for the NOAA alert, rather include your communication strategy in your pre-season preparations.

This time you could spend on:

  • Developing your hurricane communication plan. Modern notification systems, such as Hyper-Reach, let you use multiple communication channels to spread instructions to your community. You can send your alerts simultaneously via voice messages, text, email, social media and IPAWS. Remember to include links into your messages, if possible, to provide more detail.
  • Ramp up your ENS enrollment efforts before the season starts – remind your citizens that hurricane season is on the way and that those who haven’t signed up for emergency alerts should do this as soon as possible. Explain the importance of this action and provide some good examples.  Use all the means available to you to enroll your community members.
  • Informing the public about your ENS communication plan, and that in addition to the alerts from the National Weather Service, they should watch for notifications from you that may include instructions and guidance.
  • Preparing hurricane emergency notification templates. This will save you time during an emergency. Pay particular attention to the message structure. You can learn more about an effective message structure in one of our recent  posts.

Step 2 – When the storms begin, follow your plan:

  • If the hurricane strikes, remember to use your pre-designed templates and follow your hurricane preparedness plan. At this point, you should have already identified who will be responsible for preparing and sending these alerts.
  • Keep your citizens informed on all stages of the hazard – provide updates with critical information and new instructions as needed before, during and in the aftermath of the storm. This will help people to stay safe and react appropriately:
    • before the storm – tell your citizens what precautions should be taken. Here are some examples: let people know where shelter locations are, provide evacuation route, remind them to prepare an emergency preparedness kit and to keep important documents with them or in a safe place. Recommend them to monitor local news for updates as well.
    • provide your people with as many updates as needed during and in the aftermath of the storm – give them accurate directions on how to avoid danger, and the evacuation plan, if needed. Update your citizens with flooding information, advice to be careful during the clean-up: avoid wading in flood water, touching wet electrical equipment and downed, damaged power lines etc. And finally, tell people when it’s safe to return back home.

Step 3 – Measure Your Effectiveness

Measure the effectiveness of your emergency communication campaign. A robust mass notification system, such as Hyper-Reach, will provide informative reports that allow you to measure performance of your notifications and see what channels and messages were most effective. This will help you to be even more prepared and efficient next time.

Emergency Notification Systems can be powerful tools.  They have proved to be extremely useful in notifying the community about all types of dangerous situations. In many cases they have helped to save lives and helped citizens to avoid danger. If you don’t have such a system in place yet, or want to see how your current system compares with the Hyper-Reach Emergency Notification System, please request a demo and we would be more than happy to show you all the advantages Hyper-Reach provides.  

As one of our many “firsts” in the ENS industry, Hyper-Reach will soon be releasing our new Push Notifications. Keep an eye on our upcoming blog posts for more details on this and other new feature releases!

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Let’s re-write another NWS alert

This recent alert was screaming “re-write” when it came in last night.   So here goes:

The Original

HEADLINE: Heat Advisory issued June 17 at 10:38PM EDT until June 18 at 8:00PM EDT by NWS Buffalo

DESCRIPTION: …HEAT ADVISORY REMAINS IN EFFECT FROM 10 AM TO 8 PM EDT
MONDAY
* LOCATIONS…Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Northern Cayuga,
Oswego, Genesee, Livingston, and Ontario counties.
* TIMING…From late Monday morning through early Monday evening.
* HEAT INDEX VALUES…In the upper 90s.
* IMPACTS…The combination of hot temperatures and high
humidity levels will result in a potential for heat-related
illnesses if proper precautions are not taken.

INSTRUCTIONS: A Heat Advisory means that a period of hot temperatures is
expected. The combination of hot temperatures and high humidity
will combine to create a situation in which heat illnesses are
possible. Drink plenty of fluids…stay in an air-conditioned
room…stay out of the sun…and check in on relatives and
neighbors.
Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside. when
possible…reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or
evening. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat
stroke. Wear light weight and loose fitting clothing when
possible and drink plenty of water.
To reduce risk during outdoor work…the occupational safety and
health administration recommends scheduling frequent rest breaks
in shaded or air conditioned environments. anyone overcome by
heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Heat stroke
is an emergency – call 9 1 1.

———————————————————————————————————–

Our Re-write, based on the Mileti principles:

HEADLINE: NWS Buffalo: High Temperature Danger on Monday, June 18 from 10AM to 8:00PM EDT

* SOURCE: NWS Buffalo

* HAZARD: Heat index in the high 90s starting at 10AM Monday.  Hot weather and high humidity means a risk of heat illness, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

* LOCATIONS…NY State: Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, Wayne, Northern Cayuga, Oswego, Genesee, Livingston, and Ontario counties. (a link to a map here would make so much sense.)

* GUIDANCE …From 10AM Monday, drink plenty of fluids…stay out of the sun and in air-conditioning where possible…and check in on relatives and neighbors.
If outside, do these things, if possible: limit high-effort activities to early morning or evening. Wear light weight and loose fitting clothing. Drink plenty of water.  Schedule rest breaks every hour in the shade or cooler area. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Call 9 1 1 if heat stroke or exhaustion is suspected.

* EXPIRES… Early Monday evening (8PM).

———————————————————————————-

Not only does this reduce the number of words, but we cut the reading level required by 1-2 grades and went from “fairly difficult” to “fairly easy” to read. (Here’s the test we used.)

This could also be improved on.  For example, a link to a resource explaining the symptoms of heat exhaustion/stroke would be helpful.   And the words “overcome by heat” are ambiguous.  Listing some symptoms, such as “feeling faint, dizzy or weak” would be much more clear.

To make a template out of this, we could do it this way, making the assumption that there is a weather forecast that lets us choose a start time:

* SOURCE: {Source}

* HAZARD: Heat index in {Heat index} starting at {Start time}. Hot weather and high humidity means a risk of heat illness, heat exhaustion or heat stroke.

* LOCATION {Location}

* Guidance: From {Start}, drink plenty of fluids…stay out of the sun and in air-conditioning where possible…and check in on relatives and neighbors.
If outside, do these things, if possible: limit work or exercise to early morning or evening. Wear light weight and loose fitting clothing. Drink plenty of water.  Schedule rest breaks every hour in the shade or a cooler area. Anyone overcome by heat should be moved to a cool and shaded location. Call 9 1 1 if heat stroke or exhaustion is suspected.

* EXPIRES… {Expiration time}.

A lesson in rewriting emergency alerts

Since we just published our take on how to write emergency alerts, we thought we could use an alert we just got from NYAlerts to suggest ways to improve your alert writing skills.

Below are three versions of the alert: (1) the original text; (2) our re-write, using the format provided by the alert, since it appears to be pre-formatted to those 6 elements: headline, description, locations, timing, impacts and instructions, and (3) our re-write, using the guidelines from Professor Mileti.

The amount of detail you want to include and what description will be most helpful are obviously judgment calls and local knowledge is key.  But we like our versions better for a few reasons:

  1. Less ambiguity. What is “early this evening?”  If 8PM is clear, why not stick with that?  What’s the difference between a “dangerous area” and any other structure?  Isn’t the issue here that any structure is a risk because a wave can cause a swimmer to collide with it?
  2. Less formal language. Why a “Beach Hazards Statement” instead of just “Hazardous Beach Conditions?” In fact, with a little more time, we might try to simplify that phrase.  How about “Unsafe Beaches?”
  3. Active, rather than passive verbs.  You learned this in school.  “Remains in effect” is passive.  Actually, we just took out the verb in the 2nd re-write.
  4. Shorter. On a word count basis, we saved 10 words, which is more than 10%.  It’s just easier to read.

 

Actual Alert

* HEADLINE: Beach Hazards Statement issued June 14 at 10:30AM EDT until June 14 at 8:00PM EDT by NWS Buffalo

* DESCRIPTION: …BEACH HAZARDS STATEMENT REMAINS IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EDT THIS EVENING…

* LOCATIONS…Beaches of Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne counties.

* TIMING…Through early this evening.

* IMPACTS…Strong currents and dangerous swimming conditions.

INSTRUCTIONS: A Beach Hazards Statement is issued when there is a high swim risk. This means life threatening waves and currents are expected. Stay out of the water and stay away from dangerous areas like piers and breakwalls.

1st Re-Write

* HEADLINE: NWS Buffalo: Hazardous Beach Conditions from June 14 at 10:30AM EDT until June 14 at 8:00PM EDT

* DESCRIPTION: …HAZARDOUS BEACH CONDITIONS ARE IN EFFECT UNTIL 8 PM EDT THIS EVENING…

* IMPACTS…High risk of drowning. Life threatening waves and currents expected.

* LOCATIONS…Lake Ontario Beaches of Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne counties, NY. From Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fair Haven.

* INSTRUCTIONS: …Stay out of the water and away from piers, breakwalls and other structures near the water’s edge.

* TIMING…Through 8PM tonight.

 

2nd Re-Write

* HEADLINE: NWS Buffalo: Hazardous Beach Conditions, June 14 from 10:30AM until 8:00PM (EDT).

* SOURCE: NWS Buffalo

* HAZARD: …LIFE THREATENING BEACH CONDITIONS UNTIL 8 PM THIS EVENING…High risk of drowning. Life threatening waves and currents expected.

* LOCATIONS…The southern shore of Lake Ontario including Niagara, Orleans, Monroe, and Wayne counties, NY. From Niagara-on-the-Lake to Fair Haven.

* GUIDANCE: …Stay out of the water and away from piers, breakwalls and other structures near the water’s edge. Do not swim.

* EXPIRATION…Through 8PM tonight.

Plan Ahead: Emergency Message Templates

In our recent post – “Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Severe Weather Alerts” – we talked a little about how to structure an emergency notification message. We’d like to expand on this topic.

According to Dr. Dennis Mileti, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, a successful warning message should include these five components (https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/159069):

  • Source: who the message is from;
  • Hazard: the threat and its impacts;
  • Location: the impact area boundaries described in a way that can be easily understood (for example: street names, landmarks, natural features and political boundaries);
  • Guidance (Protective Action)/Time: what protective action to take, when to do it, how to do it, and how doing it reduces impacts;
  • Expiration time: when the alert/warning expires and/or new information will be received.

Through our emergency notification experience, we’ve discovered that message style is also very important. A successful notification message should:

  • be brief but impactful: simple and straight to the point.
  • use simple language: avoid jargon and technical language. It must be easy to understand for all residents of your community regardless of their age and occupation.
  • include a picture and/or a source for more details or updates.

In contrast, sending out an inappropriate message could cause results that are completely opposite to what you intended.  Instead of helping people to avoid/escape an emergency, a badly worded message may create unnecessary panic or inaction.

To help insure a good message structure, it’s useful to have some ready templates that you can use as a starting point when writing a warning message. Which is why Hyper-Reach offers the ability to create saved message templates, and is improving that capability. Templates can not only save you time but also will serve as a good quality control practice, avoiding inconsistencies and mistakes.

Although current IPAWS/WEA messages are limited to 90 characters, it’s still possible to cover the most important information with IPAWS/WEA and supplement with other messaging methods. So if you have a modern Emergency Notification system such as Hyper-Reach in place, you can send out not only 90-character WEA messages but also more detailed text messages, emails, Facebook and Twitter posts.

Recent changes to FCC rules for WEA are also helpful.  For one, you can now include a URL in a WEA message, which allows for a link to a page with much more detail.  And the FCC has changed the rules about WEA message length – although they won’t take effect until next year – increasing to 360 characters.

Summarizing our recommendations above, we’ve prepared some efficient templates for 90-character WEA messages and 160-character SMS messages that you can use and model your own messages on.  You can download them here.

If you have other types of messages you’d like us to template, please let us know.  You can send your suggestions to jveilleux@ashergroup.com.

Don’t Overpay for Emergency Notification Services

We came across this announcement for the town of Smithers, British Columbia, in Canada, which honestly made our blood boil just a little.

Smithers is a small town of about 5,300 people. That means it has about 2,100 households and less than 1,700 of those households have a landline.  And the emergency notification provider they chose is charging them $7,500 per year.

We’re glad that the public safety folks in Smithers think that emergency notification services are worth more than $3 per household.  On that point, we agree.  But that’s a crazy high amount to be paying for such a small community.

In fact, we know of emergency notification companies that would charge between $2,000 – $3,000 per year for the same service.  And at least one of those companies would offer the same kinds of services, with messages delivered as voice messages to landline and cell phones, text messages, email, pager messages, Facebook and Twitter feeds, RSS feeds, and even Internet posts and more.  And that company would deliver those messages just as fast and possibly faster, just as reliably and possibly more reliably, thanks to their use of cloud-based computing services companies.  And – despite what the story says – the recipients of those messages would be able to respond to verify that they’d received the message.

Which makes us wonder what the citizens of Smithers are going to get for the extra $5,000 or so they’ll be paying each year for this service. And what they could do with that $5,000 if they’d found a less expensive service provider.

So, congratulations to the citizens of Smithers.  Emergency notification services are highly valuable.  And well worth the money you’ll be paying.  But when it comes time to renew your contract, shop around a bit.  We think you can get a much better deal.

 

 

National Police Day

 

This week is National Police Week. Beginning in 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Police Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls – National Police Week.

It’s dedicated to honor those officers that have fallen in the line of duty and to remind us what hard and dangerous work law enforcement professionals are facing every day while serving their communities. This year 30,000-40,000 people are expected to attend the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. (The complete schedule of events is here: http://www.nleomf.org/programs/policeweek/).

Craig Floyd, CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said “The tragic deaths … (are) a stark reminder of the dangers our law enforcement professionals face each and every day while protecting and serving our communities. Too often, their service and sacrifice are taken for granted.”  

So let’s not forget about the sacrifices these courageous people make for us.

Last year, 129 officers died in the line of duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund data (http://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/causes.html). Although that’s down 19% from 2016, we are still losing far too many of our brave men and women in blue. As of Monday, 53 officers have died in the line of duty across the country this year, an enormous loss for the American nation.

As an Emergency Notification Services vendor we recognize that the main concern of law enforcement professionals is the community they serve, which is an interest we share, since we are privileged to serve many of those communities. In keeping with National Police Week, we asked some of America’s finest to share their thoughts about National Law Enforcement Memorial taking place this week in Washington D.C. and about ways that Emergency Notification might be used to help protect the lives of their officers.

Here are some of their responses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We very much appreciate the comments above. Losing an officer is a tragic loss, not only to their family and colleagues but also to the community they served. To the extent that emergency notifications may help officers to avoid or decrease danger by spreading the word quickly among colleagues and community, we are glad to offer that service.

In conclusion, we’d like to express our deep gratitude to the members of law enforcement who daily put their lives on the line to protect and to serve their communities and uphold the fabric of society which makes up our great nation. We appreciate your courage and your commitment, we thank you for your willingness to serve and the sacrifices you make.  We share your sorrow and deep sense of loss for your fallen. Thank you!

P.S: We’d like to continue this conversation and expand on this article.  So if you have other thoughts about the memorial, the sacrifice of fallen officers and the risks you face every day serving your communities, please share those with us.  And we’d love to hear your thoughts about how emergency notification services can help you both serve your communities and minimize and respond to the dangers you face. If you’d like to share those thoughts, please drop us a line here.

 

Don’t be embarrassed by a bogus RFP

We’re working on some RFPs from a number of cities and counties and came across one that’s so heavily skewed toward a particular vendor, it inspired us to think about some principles that are worth considering if you work in procurement.  Although the examples are for mass emergency notification services, the lessons should apply to any RFP sent out by a government agency.  Because if you’re sending out an RFP the violates the guidelines below, I think you’re setting yourself up for trouble if other vendors complain to whoever you may be accountable to.

Quick note: we’re not going to file a complaint about this RFP.  If we’ve decided you don’t want our services, we just go find customers who do.

  1. Don’t list requirements you don’t understand.  There’s a requirement here to get a certification related to the “Safety Act”.  One of the criteria for that certification is that the technology is not widely released.  Since what we sell is used by thousands of cities and counties around the US, it’s pretty obvious that the technology is widely released and we’re not going to get that certification.  I doubt the RFP writer had any idea what they were asking for.
  2. Don’t list requirements that are irrelevant.  The city that issued this RFP has fewer than 20,000 people, which means fewer than 10,000 callable phones.  But they want proof that an emergency notification provider has previously placed 3 million calls in a 24 hour period.  That’s more than 300 times the capacity they are ever likely to require.  Do they really want to eliminate vendors that can only document, say, 1,000,000 calls in 24 hours?
  3. Don’t list requirements that are archaic.  This RFP requires a smartphone app running on Windows phones.  Now, since Microsoft has pretty much abandoned all three Windows phone operating systems developed over the last 10 years, this requirement raises all kinds of questions.  An obvious one would be this: “assuming you actually have some Windows phone users, wouldn’t it be cheaper just to get them to switch phones than pay the premium it will cost to limit yourself to one possible vendor?”
  4. Don’t use the “inside baseball” language.  There’s a line in this RFP that says vendors aren’t supposed to use “cascading calling methodology.”  Since there’s no definition of what that means, this kind of question accomplishes nothing.  Every vendor will simply respond the way they expect the customer wants the answer and the customer – who probably has no idea what the term means – is unlikely to challenge those answers.
  5. Design your requirements to address your REAL needs. Instead of getting caught up in obscure technicalities, specify requirements based on your objectives.  This RFP is full of technical details about a system that provides for communication between government agencies. It happens that most government agencies don’t actually use the system discussed, so all the details about how it works are so many words about nothing of consequence. Meanwhile, the RFP asks comparatively little on how a vendor will effectively get an emergency message in front of the largest number of citizens in an effective way.

Of course, if you’re required to send out an RFP and you really know who you want to choose, maybe these questions serve a valuable purpose.  After all, we’re not going to use our valuable time to respond to an RFP that’s obviously skewed to a particular vendor.  And if you’re the buyer, you’re not wasting your time going through the motions pretending that you’re actually comparing vendors fairly.  In many ways, sending out an RFP that pretends to be fair is actually worse for all involved, since it usually takes a lot of time to answer one of these.

If you really want to have some viable options and get the best deal for your agency, consider an outcome-focused RFP that’s based on your actual objectives.  In our case, we think that most buyers should want to reach as many of their citizens – and often, staff members –  as they can, as easily, quickly, reliably and effectively as they can. Requirements that are built around these specific goals tell us that you’re a serious buyer, worthy of our attention.

Thanks for letting me rant.  Now I’ve got to get back to answering the other RFP I have on my desk.

Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Severe Weather Alerts

Recent discussions around last year’s California wildfires caught our attention. (http://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/-Wildfires-Emphasize-Need-to-Improve-Emergency-Alert-Systems.html)

Back in October, the decision of local authorities not to send out a warning message using the IPAWS Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) may have cost many lives. Some local officials think that a statewide standard for severe weather alerts, similar to that for for Amber Alerts, could have solved the problem.

Although statewide guidance might be helpful, we think that local authorities may not want to wait for their state and might choose, instead, to develop their own local standards. Most severe weather emergencies are local and can even differ from one county to another. Local standards could help emergency responders to react faster by reducing the hesitation level – one of the delay factors in issuing a warning.

Below we highlight some recommendations that can help you to be more prepared when a severe weather emergency strikes:

  • Identify weather hazards that are most common for your area and create a response protocol for each of them.
  • Cooperate with neighboring counties and cities on creating the same standards for similar weather hazards. This will ease the coordination between affected territories when an emergency hits.
  • Identify triggers and set clear requirements – when exactly an emergency alert should be sent to residents. It might also be useful to classify weather emergencies by hazard level.
  • Determine people who would be responsible for sending out weather emergency alerts and make sure to organize training for them.
  • Create a detailed communication plan:
    • Identify what communication channels might be down during common weather emergencies and what channels are preferable to use. The more channels you use the better.
    • Create message templates for each of possible severe weather situation in your area. Pay particular attention to the message content.

According to Dr. Mileti, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado Boulder, successful warning message should include these elements (https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/159069):

· Source
· Hazard
· Location Personalization
· Consequences
· Protective Action
· How action reduces Consequences
· Expiration Time

Here’s an example of such a message:

While this is a great example of such a notification, WEA messages are still  limited to 90 characters (a change to 360 characters has been adopted by the FCC but is not in effect yet.) So you can’t such a long message yet.

Here’s an example of approximating the same message across within the current 90 character limit:

Elm Cty Sheriff:Creek flooding from Maple-Hwy110,

Wood City.Drowning risk! Get out by 6PM!

While it’s less detailed, it still includes the most important information like source, hazard location and type, protective action to be taken and how quickly residents need to act.

Alternatively, we’ve recommended using two 90-character messages when the need is great.  So here’s that:

Elm Cty Sheriff: Elm Creek flooding 25+ ft,

both sides from Maple-Hwy 110 in Wood City.

Elm Cty Sheriff (ctd): Move 2+ blocks out by 6PM

or you will drown. Msg expires 11PM.

  • Predefine residents that might be at risk and create sending lists in advance. You can always adjust them.
  • Plan for upcoming changes to WEA messages so you’re ready to modify the protocols to take advantage of those.

Sonoma County local officials stated that the reason why Sonoma County decided not to send out emergency alerts in October was because their notification system can cover too wide area and they thought that sending alerts to every available cell phone in a county – rather than just those in a targeted evacuation zone – could cause unnecessary panic (http://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/-Wildfires-Emphasize-Need-to-Improve-Emergency-Alert-Systems.html).  Although that’s a valid concern, what the research suggests is that a broadcast WEA alert – especially with the “location personalization” described above, can be an important part of the process of getting people to act.

Because the FCC has changed the rules around WEA messages, you’ll be able to take advantage of these improvements within the next year or two:

  • 360 character messages that will allow for much more information;
  • A hyper-link that lets citizens click over to a webpage or map with more information;
  • Better targeting of messages – with requirements by the FCC that mobile carriers can subdivide their towers’ broadcast areas into more specific sub-sections.

Because of the changing nature of the mass notification landscape, you may have to revise your protocols over time. And if you start the process by creating a set of protocols you can use today, you’ll have a headstart on new technology as it becomes available.

Want to implement IPAWS for your community?  Contact us today. We can help you get started.

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