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.


How much could Massachusetts save by switching to Hyper-Reach?

Recently the state of Iowa did some research on what their communities are paying for emergency alert services.  Their homeland security people did a survey and concluded that the 53 counties that use these services pay about $600,000 per year, while another 46 counties don’t have such a service.

That got us thinking.  So we went to our database of 2,000+ cities and counties (for which we have pricing data on about 20%) and determined that all cities and counties in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts are paying about $2MM per year – collectively – for emergency alert services.  That’s probably an underestimate, but we’ll use the data we have.

Based on the vendors that most of these Massachusetts communities use, we estimate that switching to Hyper-Reach would save about $600K – $1MM per year.  Since Hyper-Reach is easier to use and faster than most of the vendors used in Massachusetts, we think those savings are worth looking at.  You can buy a lot of lobster for that kind of cash.

Does Iowa Spend More for Emergency Notification than the US Average?

Recently, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management released some data showing what many of their counties spend for emergency alert services.  The results are pretty interesting.

We omitted a few counties as representative (because the alert services they use are not as feature-rich) and came up with an average of $0.79 per household across Iowa.  That contrasts with a national average – based on our data – of $.60 per household.

But we might be comparing apples and oranges.

Our $.60/household number is at the county level only, and our database has more municipalities than counties, so it may be that in some parts of the country – the northeast, for example – emergency alert responsibilities are split between county and municipal agencies.  So we’ll need to dig into the numbers more deeply.

We also looked at the cost/household for each vendor reported.  The data show the most expensive vendor (Global Connect) at 2-3 times as much as the others and the least expensive vendors (Hyper-Reach and Inspiron) at about 35% less than the average.  But a caution here.  The sample sizes for those two vendors is small in this data.  We know that Hyper-Reach is generally about 25%-30% less than CodeRED and Everbridge, while our data for Inspiron nationwide show an average of about $0.52 per household.


Iowa Emergency Alert Spending by Vendor

Vendor Cost/HH/Year
 $       0.52
 $       0.52
 $       0.78
 $       0.83
Global Connect
 $       1.73


New Edition of Pricing Study Almost Ready

Last year we started a survey of Emergency Alert service pricing among public safety agencies across the US.  We got over 50 responses and were happy to be able to share this data with emergency managers, 911, law enforcement, fire departments and other public safety officials.

This year, we’ve take a different approach and have collected data across many sources, including public records, news stories and survey responses.  We’ve collected over 350 individual price points.   In context, that’s pretty impressive.  It’s more than 17% of the 2000+ communities (counties, cities, towns and states) we’ve identified as having an Emergency Alert system.  Statistically, we have to confess it doesn’t meet the standards of random selection, but it’s still a huge sample.

Some of the results were surprising to us.  We’ll be interested in what you think.

The importance of smartphones in Emergency Alert Registration

Recently, the US National Emergency Alert Registry asked some Facebook friends to test our Facebook-based registration page.  3/4ths of the people who responded tried it on their smartphones, although they didn’t specify the device.

Some other statistics help make the point:  57% of mobile users now have a smartphone and 23% of those do their web browsing exclusively or mostly on their phone.

Hyper-Reach and USNEAR are the only emergency alert registration pages which format for mobile devices automatically.  Most of the rest are pretty much unreadable on a smartphone.

With more than 40% of US households having no landline, how will you get those people registered if they can’t read the form?


The power of Google Maps

We use Google Maps as our primary way to allow geographic selection of people to call for emergency alerts.  So when you want to call all the houses within one mile of a an industrial accident, you’re using the Google Maps interface.

There are some obvious benefits to using what the NY Times called “the most detailed street atlas on earth”, including:

  • its familiarity to most people (70% of geographic searches on the Internet are done on Google),
  • the ability to use Street View, so you can actually see photos of the area you’re interested in,
  • the huge investment Google has put into both the data and the interface, and
  • 100% uptime, as scored by several Internet monitoring services.

A recent article in the NY Times magazine (Google’s Road Map to Global Domination) is a great read for geography nerds, with details about both Google and other industry players.  If you don’t have time for that one, this blog post by David Pogue (What Makes Google’s Maps So Good), is also very good.


Why Don’t All States Have a State-Wide Emergency Alert Signup Page?

This week, we were reminded that CO’s 9-1-1Foundation has a page that makes it much easier for Colorado residents to find the emergency notification sign-up page for their county.  It’s not perfect, but it’s a big improvement over a lot of the other promotional work we’ve seen in other states.  And we heard from a board member of that foundation that they’re planning to do an ad campaign to promote the page, which is great.

Because the US National Emergency Alert Registry has over 2,000 registration pages in its database, it’s not realistic to expect residents to scroll through so much to find their page (we’re working on a lookup function to solve that).  But Colorado has only about 60 listings, so it’s much easier to deal with – especially since most of these are at the county level.