A Great Story on Wireless Emergency Alerts

Here’s a story about how Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) – using the FEMA IPAWS system helped save lives during Sunday’s tornadoes across the Midwest.


In addition to cheering on the WEA system, there are two points we want to make:

1) Local public safety officials can use this same system for other imminent threats to life and property.  A Hyper-Reach Express account is all you need.  Just call us and we’ll tell you how.

2) WEA messages probably don’t reach much more than 1/2 the US population at this point.  They work on more recent mobile phones (not just smartphones!) but older folks and those with older phones won’t get those messages.  So using a system like Hyper-Reach can close the gap between what WEA can cover and what WEA can’t.


Reactions to Hyper-Reach at APCO Atlantic

We were at the APCO Atlantic conference this week on Cape Cod.  Lots of fun and interest and we appreciate the hospitality of those folks.

On the exhibit floor we were doing demos to clients of competitive systems (you know who they are).

Here are some of the comments we got (not quite verbatim, since my memory is not that precise, but the key words are all there) :

– Wow!

– This is the easiest system out there.

– So much easier than what we’re using.

Those are the three comments I can remember.

Now each of the competitors that these folks use are fine companies, but based on these comments, it’s clear that we’ve managed to make our menus simpler and easier to get through.  Which is important when you need to send an emergency message.

How To Insure Access to Your Emergency Alert Registration Data

Some Emergency Notification vendors apparently refuse to provide the registration data they’ve collected from the public.  We think that’s just wrong, since the public registered for a service offered by the community.  The vendor is just a means to that end.

If you want to maintain access to this data so you have the freedom to switch vendors when you want (and we think you should), below we offer some contract language you may want to include in your agreement with that vendor.  It specifies that the vendor must transfer the registration data to the successor vendor you switch to.

We’ve tried to address any objections you might hear from them, such as security, liability, etc.  Let us know if you hear any objections we haven’t covered.

Caveat – We are not lawyers and this isn’t legal advice, so you may want to get this reviewed by your attorney.

Transfer of Registration Data

Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, if Customer/Licensee/Client terminates this Agreement and contracts with an alternative service provider (“Alternate Service Provider”), Company/Licensor/Vendor agrees to transfer to Alternate Service Provider all data collected from members of the general public, including, but not limited to, names, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses and other contact information (“Registration Data”) collected by Company/Licensor/Vendor during the term of this Agreement, subject to the following conditions:

  1. Customer/Licensee/Client notifies and requests transfer by Company/Licensor/Vendor within 90 days of the termination of this Agreement;
  2. Customer/Licensee/Client verifies and certifies to Company/Licensor/Vendor that the data security measures in use by Alternative Service Provider are reasonable and sufficient for the security of the Registration Data;
  3. Customer/Licensee/Client indemnifies and holds harmless Company/Licensor/Vendor for any use or misuse of the Registration Data by Alternative Service Provider;
  4. Company/Licensor/Vendor transfers such data within 60 days of notice by Customer/Licensee/Client;
  5. Formats of the data shall in CVS, XML or other similarly accepted and non-proprietary data formats generally used for data transfers.   If data is encrypted, it will be encrypted with a publicly-available technology and all needed documentation for its decryption will be provided to Alternate Service Provider.  Transmission will be via FTP or standard CD or DVD disks.
  6. Failure of Company/Licensor/Vendor to comply with this provision will result in a payment by Company/Licensor/Vendor to Customer/Licensee/Client of $3 per Registration Data record as liquidated damages. 

It’s time to get serious about making alert registration easy

We just went through three recent news stories about emergency alerts.  All of them encouraged residents to sign up for their local alert service.  None of them made it easy.

Here are some of the problems we found:

  1. No clickable link.  In two cases the story just said to go to the county or city web page and find the link.  But these are online articles, so why not at least provide the URL or a hyper-link?
  2. No direct link.  Even if the reader found the county/city web page, that’s not the right address.  You almost always have to click a link on that page to get to the actual signup page.
  3. Hidden link on the city/county page.  Issues include non-obvious links and links that are off the screen when you open the page.  Scrolling down will get you there, but how many people miss that?
  4. Too many steps.  On one city’s page, we had to click on a link that took us to a page with a link to a PDF file where the actual sign up page link appeared.  And it wasn’t clickable either.

This is in addition to the issues a resident will run into when they actually get to the real signup page.

In an era where “wireless only” households are becoming predominant, it’s critical that communities and vendors get better at promoting their registration pages.  Otherwise, emergency notification services will become irrelevant.

This is one of the reasons we’re sponsoring the US National Emergency Alert Registry.  It’s one address that anyone can use.  And because USNEAR transfers the data to correct signup page, other issues (discussed elsewhere) are also managed.

Confusion in Colorado? (And other places too?)

A tidbit from the US National Emergency Alert Registry (www.usnear.org):  there appear to be two sign-up pages for two different emergency alert vendors for Douglas County, CO.

The USNEAR people think they know what happened.  It looks like the county switched from one vendor to another and the earlier vendor didn’t take down their registration page.  But Google doesn’t know that, since you can find both pages using a Google search.  Which means that folks might accidentally sign up for a service that doesn’t exist anymore and never get around to signing up on the one that does work.

This is just one more reason for the USNEAR project.  After all, why should a normal citizen have to figure this out?  And could they figure it out?

Because USNEAR is registering people all over the US to pages all over the US, they are taking the time to sort this out and make sure that Mr. Vitter of 3945 Bayou Hills Lane (altered name and address for privacy protection) is registered to a live service.

Which makes us proud to be sponsors of this project.

Webinar on USNEAR.ORG

The new project that we’re sponsoring – the US National Emergency Alert Registry (www.usnear.org)  – is causing some concerns and also drawing a lot of interest.   So to answer the questions that project is raising, we’re sponsoring a series of webinars.

The first webinar will be Tuesday, August 6th at 3PM Eastern.  To register, go to : https://docs.google.com/a/virtuallogger.com/forms/d/1sw7XfTo3DFS5kGgjxrLdsJZlQleDDv3XL725p9MldNw/viewform

Once registered, we’ll send you instructions on how to attend and also a preliminary preview to the presentation, so you can be prepared to ask questions during the webinar.

Emergency Alert Vendors Making it Difficult for Humans to Sign Up

As the primary sponsor for the US National Emergency Alert Registry, we’ve gotten some pretty interesting insights from them into the process for registering for local emergency alert services.  And some of those insights are pretty disturbing.

USNEAR “pre-announced” their service this week and they’ve already gotten about 50 registrants from across the country from Maine to Oregon to Florida to California.

The sign-up form is designed to capture the same information that all of the major vendors request.  They just take this information and transfer it to the local sign-up page on behalf of the registrant.

But in an era when landline numbers are dwindling and the effectiveness of emergency alert services depends on getting folks to sign up, some of these sign-up pages make it unnecessarily difficult to register.  Some examples:

– Outdated address databases.  We’ve found some pages that do an address verification before you complete the registration.  Unfortunately, they don’t have some valid addresses in them, and there’s no good option for dealing with this.  We had to email the director of the agency to see what they would do.

– Insisting on a number. One vendor wants to add the registrant’s number to the 911 database.  That’s a cool idea, except that they won’t take your registration unless you provide an actual telephone number.  But some people only want an email notification and don’t want to provide their number.  So it seems that those folk get no service.

– Multi-step registration process. Another vendor won’t let you complete your sign up on the website.  You can register, but it’s not complete until you send them another message from your phone.  So again, you have to provide a phone (email alone won’t do), and if you never send the message you’re out of luck.

The statistics on registration rates for emergency alerts are not good.  We’ve seen a general range of 2% to a maximum of 10% and we don’t think many communities make it to 10%.  In a world where reaching citizens is going to depend on getting the message to their mobile phones, every effort needs to be made so the process is as easy as possible.

“Do You Want To Stop Getting Alerts On Your Phone?”

I have a 1 month-old Samsung Galaxy S4.  It’s a cool phone, but I got a message today I wasn’t expecting.

I got a Wireless Emergency Alert, but that’s not the message I’m talking about.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are those alerts that go to most newer phones and send messages from the National Weather Service and others about emergency situations.  The program has just gotten started but will spread to most counties and cities over time, we think.

Right after the alert showed, though, was a message like the headline above helpfully explaining  how I could disable the emergency alerts on my phone.

Now I understand why folks might want to disable these alerts.  There have been a number of news stories lately about phone alerts at 2AM and 3AM, etc. waking people up to tell them about missing kids, flash floods and other such things.

Please folks, if you are going to disable the emergency notifications on your phone, sign up for your local emergency alert service and opt for text messaging.  You can sign up at www.usnear.org.

The alerts will come as normal text messages, which means you control how they sound and when.  And there’s no cost to you other than text messaging charges.

This way, you get the valuable information in these alerts but you also get to control whether your sleep is disturbed.

What To Do With a Flash Flood Warning on Your Phone

Thanks to Wireless Emergency Alerts on phones, the Twitterverse  is full of people talking about the alerts they get.

Many of these are flash flood warnings.  What do you do with these?

First, don’t freak out.  Chances are good you’re safe where you are, especially if you are paying attention.  Most the deaths caused by flash floods are in vehicles, so if you’re at home and don’t live in a flood plain – relax.

Second, be aware.  If you know your geography, you can understand your risk.  For example, if you don’t live near a stream bed or water drainage, you’re probably not at risk – at least not at home.  And it matters what state you live in.  According floodsafety.com, the most dangerous states for flood deaths are Texas, South Dakota, California, Virginia and West Virginia, with Texas at the very top.  Flash floods can happen in any state, but are much more likely in some states – ironically, especially in drier climates.

Third, if you are in a vehicle, don’t try to drive through water.  It only takes a few inches of moving water to sweep even a Hummer away.  And that’s where most deaths occur.  And the risk is real.  The National Weather Service says more people die yearly in floods than by lightning, tornadoes, or hurricanes.  And stay away from low lying roads where water might gather.

So don’t panic when you get a flash flood warning.  Chances are good that you’re fine.  But be smart and be safe.

50+ Reasons To Sign Up for Emergency Alerts

Life can be hazardous to your health.

Stuff happens.

You know it and we do too.

Here’s an incomplete list of some of the things you might be warned about if you get emergency alerts from your community.

Not all of them may fit your circumstances:  Folks in NYC aren’t likely to see wild bears, Texans won’t get many blizzard warnings and the Zombie thing is a little doubtful.  But most people could get at least one of the things on this list in the next few months or years.

Knowledge is power.  Sign up for your local emergency notification service at www.usnear.org.

  1. Contagious Diseases
  2. Contaminated Food
  3. Downed Power Lines
  4. Bioterrorism
  5. Bomb Threats
  6. Terrorist Attacks
  7. Rock Slides
  8. Mud Slides
  9. Flash Floods
  10. Traffic Lights Not Working
  11. Major Traffic Accidents
  12. Road Detours
  13. Other Road Closures
  14. Plane Crashes
  15. Train Derailments
  16. Overturned Tractor Trailer With Explosives
  17. Overturned Tractor Trailer With Fuel
  18. Overturned Tractor Trailer With Hazardout Materials
  19. Wild Bears
  20. Rabid Dogs
  21. Other Dangerous Animals
  22. Zombies
  23. Bad Water
  24. Water Shortages
  25. Electricity Outage
  26. Water Main Breaks
  27. Water Outages
  28. Natural Gas Leak
  29. Ozone Levels
  30. Polluted Air
  31. Dust Storms
  32. Blizzards
  33. Hurricanes
  34. Ice Storms
  35. Thunderstorms
  36. Tornados
  37. Tsunamis
  38. Riptides
  39. Extreme Cold
  40. Extreme Heat
  41. Earthquakes
  42. Wildfires
  43. Local Warming Stations
  44. Shelter Availability and Locations
  45. Escaped Convict
  46. They Caught the Guy
  47. Shooter on Loose
  48. Rapist in Area
  49. Recent Break-ins/Thefts
  50. Searching for Witness to Crimes
  51. Helping With Search
  52. Amber Alert
  53. They Found the Kid
  54. Silver Alert
  55. They Found Him/Her Too
  56. Other Missing Persons
  57. Evacuations
  58. Shelter in Place
  59. Explosions
  60. Industrial Accidents
  61. Polling Place Changes (seriously)