The Value of Simplicity for Emergency Alerts

At Hyper-Reach, we often talk about how simple and easy our emergency alert system is for public safety people to use.

This story from Virginia Beach illustrates an important reason for keeping systems simple.  It seems that the Police Department sent out an emergency notification call to about 100,000 people that was only meant for 175.  And the message  – sent at 2AM – was about a road being re-opened after an accident.  That probably could have waited until folks were awake.

The article says that the public safety folks are reviewing training and policy, which is good.  We’d just make the point that training is easier when the system is easier to learn.

We proudly use Google Maps as the major component of our geographic selection process.  We do this because Google is a master at keeping things simple and accessible to as many people as possible and because most people are familiar with Google.  (It doesn’t hurt that Google invests an enormous amount of money into their database for Maps.)

We also allow clients to set time parameters for “normal” messages and then require that a message be marked “urgent” to be sent outside of those time settings.  This means that the default time for a message to go out can be set to be normal daylight hours and someone would need to deliberately choose to send a message at 2AM.

We put a lot of work into keeping the Hyper-Reach system easy to use, sometimes delaying the development of new features until we can come up with a design that doesn’t make the system too busy or difficult to learn.    We think that’s as important as having the latest features, because a system that’s too complex is also likely to make it difficult and unlikely for folks to actually use a feature.

So simplicity has many virtues.  It minimizes training time and cost, it improves the speed with which an emergency alert gets sent out, and it helps avoid mistakes.

So, if your emergency alert system is too complicated, give us a call at 1-855-2Notify (855-266-8439).

Hyper-Reach Initiative Ready To Go

We’ve finished developing an alert service for events, such as marathons, walkathons, jamborees, etc.  So, if you’re an organizer of such an event, we’re ready for you.

We’ve written a program guide explaining the parameters.  Click here to review.

Check it out.  If your organization does a big public event – especially one that involves lots of people from outside your community – it may be a good fit for you.


Infected Pizza Story Inspires Verse

There’s a story in today’s paper about a restaurant worker who may have infected some of the people he served.  We think this is a good use for emergency alerts, so it inspired this verse:

A guy making pizza got hepatitis

Now public health folks are having gastritis

2400 pizzas could have been infected

That’s thousands of people who should be protected

Before you start looking both yellow and green

You need to get in here and get our vaccine

When food’s gotten germy someone’s going to get hurt

It makes no difference if entrée or dessert

Before food gets you sick, you need an alert

Wireless Emergency Alerts make Major Crimes

On what I think was the season finale of Major Crimes, there’s a scene where the police send out an Amber Alert and suddenly every cell phone in the area lights up with an alert on a missing kid who happens to be with the suspect the police are chasing.

If you want to see the clip, it’s Season 2, episode 19:  Return to Sender, Part 2. You’ll have to go to one of the cable channels to get it, though.  It doesn’t seem to be posted on the TNT website.

It’s a great illustration of the power of Wireless Emergency Alerts.

Emergency Alert Services – Small Communities Pay More

At this point, we’ve collected almost 500 price points showing what cities and counties around the US are paying for their emergency alert services.

Recently we decided to analyze this data by the size of the community involved.   The results are pretty dramatic.  Smaller communities – those with less than 2,000 population, pay more than 10 times per person as those at the largest end, with 100,000 or more people.  While this is simplistic analysis (we didn’t control for vendor or the nature of the services, for example), we’re pretty sure the conclusion is true, even if the proportions might be different with finer tuning.  After all, smaller communities are often the least able to pay – proportionately fewer of them even contract for such services.

We realize that there are economies of scale in setting up emergency alert services, but 10 times seems excessive.  It seems like one or more of the many emergency alert vendors (maybe Hyper-Reach) should find a way to set up smaller communities more efficiently and put this situation into more balance.


Population Cost/Pop
0-2,000  $      2.39
2,001-10,000  $      0.90
10,001-20,000  $      0.61
20,001-50,000  $      0.44
50,000-100,000  $      0.29
100,000+  $      0.17

Daylight Savings Time and Accidents

There have been a number of studies (see below) linking Daylight Savings Time to an increase in automobile accidents, heart attacks, etc.  The author of one paper says this is from a loss of sleep and suggest the risks could be much greater:

 For instance, in 1988 the cost of sleep-related accidents exceeded $56 billion and included 24,318 deaths and 2,474,430 disabling injuries.  Major disasters, including the nuclear accident at Chernobyl, the ExxonValdez oil spill, and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger, have been linked to insufficient sleep, disrupted circadian rhythms, or both on the part of involved supervisors and staff.

The biggest effects seem to be on the Monday and Tuesday following the change in the clock, which happened yesterday.  But since accidents can happen anytime, we thought it was a good reason to remember to sign up for emergency alerts at–73661.html


The value of a vendor-neutral Emergency Alert enrollment process

We found this on the Winn Parish-Office of Emergency Preparedness Facebook page:

Winn Parish has changed our Mass Alert System from FirstCall to CodeRED. This change was made due to cost increase. Our new provider, CodeRED has a good service, only problem is that I must ask you to sign up for some CodeRED services where you already had signed up for FirstCall.

Besides wishing that they had called us (we’re generally about 20%-30% less expensive than CodeRED), the other lesson we take from this is the wisdom of using a vendor-neutral enrollment site like

If Winn Parish had used the US National Emergency Alert Registry for its enrollments, it could have kept all of the community’s data and simply transferred it to their new vendor.  And they probably would have gotten more sign-ups in the first place, since the USNEAR site has many advantages over typical sign-up pages.

Of course, USNEAR only started last year, so it wasn’t an option when they started with FirstCall.  But maybe it’s a good idea now?

The growing need for emergency alerts by text

Recently we saw this from the FCC:

… current trends in mobile wireless usage have shown continued evolution from a predominantly voice-driven medium of communication to one based more on data transmissions; for example, from 2009 to 2011, average minutes of use per subscriber per month, a measure of voice usage, continued to decline, while U.S. mobile data traffic increased 270 percent from 2010 to 2011, having more than doubled each year.

In short, text (SMS) is overtaking voice as the preferred method of communication.

But most emergency alert vendors are not keeping up:

First, some alert vendors continue to use email or other gateways, instead of direct SMS access.  That saves money, but it delays the message and limits 2-way communication.

Second, registration rates for emergency alerts are still too darn low.  We’ve yet to hear of any community which has more than a 10% registration rate.  And if folks aren’t registered, their mobile number is not available.

If the emergency alert community is going to get serious about keeping up with the 21st century, we need to do more than offer technology.  We need to change human behavior and get people signed up.

Facebook: Norwich/Chenango County Emergency Management Success

We track Facebook likes for emergency management and public safety agencies as part of our attempt at understanding how to reach the public effectively.  While Facebook and Twitter won’t ever replace conventional emergency notification services, they are great additional channels to reach the public and can be more useful than emergency alerts for the depth they can bring.

This morning we ran across the Facebook page for the City of Norwich/Chenango County Emergency Management Operations Center.  They have 5,402 likes (plus one more from us)!  For a community with just over 51,000 people and about 20,000 households, that’s huge.

To put this in perspective, of the 200+ other EM, public safety and general community Facebook pages we’ve looked at, their “likes” average around 2% or less of their community’s population.  So this page is doing better than 5 times that level.

What’s their secret?  While we can’t answer that, here are three quick things we saw:

1st) They post frequently.  Going through the last month, there seemed to be at least 3-4 posts every day.  Many – if not all – were weather related, given the rough weather the Northeast has been seeing.

2nd) They engage with fans.  There’s a fair amount of comments from folks and the staff there is responding.

3rd) Many posts are graphical; a lot of which are weather maps.

Want your Facebook “likes” to go up?  This is a good model to look at.

IPAWS List Grows A Lot

We check in on the FEMA website every month to see how the list of Alerting Authorities (the folks who can send IPAWS messages) is growing.  The most recent listing (dated 2/20) shows a big increase.

There are now 457 AA’s and AA applicants listed by FEMA – an increase of 42 since the last time we checked.  We count 304 counties, 47 states, 81 municipalities and 6 universities.  There are also some regional authorities that cover parts of CA, TX and WA and a handful of military installations.

Only three states – KS, MT and SD are not listed, although several counties and cities in those states are included. 

Whether this represents a tipping point for IPAWS is not clear.  We’re plowing through several reports on the acceptance of IPAWS – and especially, wireless emergency alerts (WEAs) – and it’s clear that there are still many concerns about the use of IPAWS for sending emergency alerts.  But since WEAs are one of the few ways to reach wireless-only households, we’re glad to see the growth.