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.

Wireless-Only Majority by 2015?

We’ve just updated all our numbers on the trend toward “wireless-only” households, and the results are startling.

Based on our projections, the US will be a majority “wireless-only” nation by sometime in 2015.  We also took US Census projections of population changes to 2060 and estimate that we’ll be 70% wireless-only by 2020 and over 80% wireless-only by 2030.

The basis of these projections involves some guesswork, but here’s one reason why we might be underestimating:

Once most of the people you know no longer have a home telephone, why would you?

As the nation goes progressively wireless-only, how are we going to reach these people in an emergency?  WEA/IPAWS is certainly one answer, but cannot be used for many of the messages sent out by emergency managers.

We need to get people registered.

A lesson from “snowedoutatlanta”

A great story in the WSJ profiles a woman in Atlanta who creates a Facebook page to help folks stuck during the recent snowstorm.   Michelle Sollicito runs a small Facebook group, but decided to create a new one called “SnowedOutAtlanta” to help people share information.  According to the Journal, the group had 55,000 members by Friday.  Kudos to her.  Now, how can we – who specialize in getting useful information to the public in an emergency – help the next Michelle?


Registration woes and how to solve them

Why we’re proud to sponsor USNEAR:

Oswego, IL switched from one of our competitors to another (they should have called us to get a better price and superior service, but that’s another story).

That new company’s registration form rejected a perfectly valid address. USNEAR found a way to get the person registered!

We’re switching our registration forms to the same technology as USNEAR.  And rolling out a mobile-ready registration page and a Facebook registration page.

If you’re serious about emergency notification, you need to be serious about getting people registered.

Alerts to Help Prevent Infant Death

Kudos to Waukegan, IL, which used their emergency alert system to warn people of the dangers of sleeping with their infant.  There were three recent infant deaths in the past  three weeks.  This is a use of emergency alerts we haven’t heard about and we applaud that use.

Unfortunately, the key target audience for these messages probably won’t get them.  According to our model, about 37% of households in Lake County, IL, where Waukegan is located, are “wireless only”, meaning they don’t have a home phone.  And 25-34 year olds (the people who have infant children) are almost twice as likely not to have a home phone.

Without a home phone, the only way a “reverse 911” message gets to someone is if they register.  But we tried registering on Waukegan’s registration page using our Android smartphone and we couldn’t get to the page.  Since young people primarily use their phones to access the Internet, we’d guess that very few wireless-only young parents are registered with the emergency alert service.

Which means that more than half of the parents of infant children won’t get that message.   And that’s a shame, because the basic idea was a good one.

Which is one more reason why people should use the US National Emergency Alert Registry to sign up for their local emergency alert service.  USNEAR has a registration page formatted for mobile phones and will get the data transferred to Waukegan’s pages without a problem.


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.