Targeting WEA Messages – FCC Improvements Coming

Recently, Wired magazine wrote an interesting article that discusses the battle between the FCC and wireless carriers over various features (GPS-enabled location tracking, media, and links) that might be implemented as part of FEMA’s IPAWS Wireless Emergency Alerts.

While the FCC and some public safety officials see personalized location tracking as an opportunity to more accurately and precisely inform the public in case of a serious emergency, others raise concerns regarding citizens’ rights to privacy. And wireless carriers have concerns regarding implementation as well as the privacy concerns of their customers and the potential impact to their bottom line.

The FCC also wants to require multimedia content (e.g. images and links) to be embedded in wireless emergency alerts and has passed a rule requiring the inclusion of links and other references in WEA messages. According to the FCC and emergency responders, these changes help to make alerts more informative and effective. Wireless carriers, however, object that adding media to alerts could result in network congestion due to larger message sizes and adding links may also flood their networks as large numbers of people download a lot of data at once.

Mass Emergency Notification systems such as Hyper-Reach typically send messages to local residents via landlines and other communication methods, which a resident could choose during a registration process.  But landlines are only present in 40%-50% of households and less than 10% of residents will typically use a registration process, so there are gaps.  Since IPAWS WEA alerts can reach almost all cell phones and more than 95% of people have a mobile phone, IPAWS WEA can fill in the gaps to reach residents and visitors in an affected area who haven’t registered.  And soon the links you include in your public notifications will be included with your IPAWS alerts as well.

Hyper-Reach already includes the ability to attach images or links to texts, emails, social media messages and even voice messages.  Some other mass emergency alert systems also support media in messages.  So as new FCC rules go into effect, you’ll be able to include links and other references very soon and image, eventually, into all the message types you wish.  (Assuming you use Hyper-Reach or another system that provides similar support.)

On a more somber note, less than 25% of our local jurisdictions are currently certified with FEMA for authorization to use this valuable tool.  Stay tuned for more on that topic in our next post!

Increasing Community Enrollment for Emergency Alerts

Getting a Mass Emergency Notification (aka Emergency Alert) System is a great way to keep your community informed and safe when an emergency occurs. However, without having your citizens signed up for emergency alerts your chances to reach out to them will be greatly diminished. Even if you use a landline database for making telephone calls, it will have huge gaps, because most people use only their cell phones nowadays.

That’s why a powerful and compelling registration campaign is critical for a successful public notification program. It will get more citizens registered for alerts and increase your notification reach and community preparedness. In our experience, folks often do not know that there’s a notification system or that they can sign up to receive emergency notifications. And in most cases, the community enrollment link for the web-based form is hard to find.

Here are some communication steps that will help you get the word out about your Emergency Notification System:

1. Use multiple communication channels:

  • Add a Sign-up button on your county/city website. Make sure it’s noticeable and easy to find. It’s  preferable to place it on the main page and the pages that are most commonly visited by your citizens.
  • Publish some press-releases in local news sources about the ENS and how community members can sign up for alerts. Cross-post it on your Facebook and Twitter news feeds.
  • Distribute informative leaflets to your citizens during public events, such as city festivals, fairs, marathons to remind them to register for emergency alerts.
  • Include a registration form with a QR-code linked to the web form on utility bills, or send a postcard.

Check out the tri-fold and postcard we did recently for our clients in Cayuga County, NY and Iredell County, NC:













2. Publish and share stories about successful use of the ENS. For example, our recent story about Phillip Roar, a 39-year old Kentucky state inmate who decided to escape the work crew he was on. Thanks to the timely use of the Hyper-Reach integrated emergency notification system, he was captured the next day and returned to custody:

3. Run thematic Sign-Up campaigns. For example, we held a Mother’s Day Sign-Up campaign for our clients last year. We used Mother’s Day as an occasion to remind citizens to register for emergency alerts and asked moms from Burke County, NC (a Hyper-Reach client) to help us to encourage their communities to sign up. The posts were published on Facebook pages of our clients.






If you’re an existing Hyper-Reach client and want to try a campaign like these, just let your Hyper-Reach sales or service representative know.  We’ll be glad to help!

We hope these suggestions will help you increase your community’s enrollment in your Emergency Notification System.

If you do not have such a system and would like to learn more, please Request A Demo and we’ll show you how it all works!


How the rapid decline of landline phones affects emergency alerts via the 911 database

As time keeps moving forward, landline phones are rapidly losing their relevance in the United States. According to 10 years of CDC surveys, the percentage of households with landlines goes down about 4% each year. If that trend continues, less than 10% of people will have a landline at home by 2027. Which means landline phones are rapidly becoming technological relics.

As an emergency notification service provider, we pay close attention to these trends. But even we were surprised when one of our customers told us this week that the number of listings in their 911 database went down by 15% this year – so much faster than the national average.

It’s certainly possible that this trend will accelerate. So if you don’t get your citizens’ cell phones registered for emergency alerts, you won’t be able to reach them quickly and effectively in the future.

And recent news stories about the wildfires in California have noted how few people are getting warned by emergency alert systems, because so few people are registered.

Fortunately, we’re working on many different ways to get the public signed up for emergency alerts. And we’re willing to share those with you – even if you’re not a Hyper-Reach customer.

Request a Demo

Emergency alerts in your disaster plans

Emergencies and disasters can strike quickly and are often hard to predict when and where they will occur.  While there are many elements to being prepared and taking action, we will focus here on emergency alert systems and their role in preparation and dealing with emergencies.

As you know, Emergency Management Cycle includes four interdependent risk-based functions: Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation.

Adapted from Texas State Safety School:

Here’s how we see emergency alerts fitting into these four elements:

1. Preparedness. Your citizens need to understand what emergency alerts are available to them, what they need to do to receive them and how they fit into their response to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area: hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme cold, flooding, terrorism, etc. FEMA material may discuss IPAWS alerts (for example,, but omit local resources, such as your emergency alert system, social media feeds, local news, etc. To be fully prepared, you should include your local emergency alert sign up form in your educational materials and explain how to follow your Facebook and/or Twitter feeds.

2. When you predefine scenarios for emergency situations that may happen in your area, you should also set expectations about what kinds of information are likely to be available from which sources. For example, IPAWS WEA messages may come from the National Weather Service, in addition to your agency. IPAWS WEA messages are going to be short and without much detail.  Messages from your agency may have more detail.  And social media and local news may have more detail yet.  Research shows that citizens will search out more information before taking action, so help them know where to look and what to trust.

3. Include Emergency Alerts in Your Training and Exercises – as you train your personnel to be familiar with detection, alarm, communications, warning, and protection systems, include emergency notifications. And that includes information that comes from sources other than your agency, such as NWS and even citizens’ social media feeds.

4. Make your communication plan comprehensive – a prompt warning to your citizens to evacuate, shelter or lockdown can save lives.

  • Choose the different types of communication that you are going to use in case of an emergency to inform your community.
  • Let citizens know how exactly you will notify them – and what other sources may be saying.
  • Do not rely on landline phones alone for emergency alerts. While 911 data is easier to get, it’s also becoming less and less reliable since more people use only cell phones.
  • Get as many citizens registered for emergency alerts as possible.

Can you do all of that with the one system only?

Yes.  An integrated mass emergency notification system (ENS) such as Hyper-Reach, can send messages such as voice, text, email and social media posts with a single set of actions.  With IPAWS you can conduct COG-to-COG communications and even send alerts to local media using the EAS system.  ENS also lets you communicate with your personnel and citizens via “two-way messaging”, geo-target the emergency audience, save templates for later use and much more.

Emergency alerts can definitely reduce the impact of disasters and sometimes avoid the danger completely.

Escape convict situation shows the power of integrated emergency notification services

On October 12, Phillip Roar, a 39-year old Kentucky state inmate decided to escape the work crew he was on.  He managed to get away, setting off an all night manhunt by Bath county Jailer Earl Willis and others.  Fortunately, he was captured the next day and returned to custody.

Key to his re-capture were the many tips provided by the community, tips that were solicited by Bath County Emergency Management, with the help of the Hyper-Reach system, which sent voi

ce and text messages to over 4,000 telephone numbers, email addresses and the county’s Emergency Management Facebook account.  The original message asking for help included both a physical description of Mr. Roar, as well as his picture, using Hyper-Reach’s ImageReach™ picture messaging system.  The Facebook post was shared more than 350 people, including the local newspaper Bath County News Outlook, resulting in more posts throughout Facebook and other social media.

This event is a great case study for the power of an integrated mass emergency notification system, such as Hyper-Reach.  The Emergency Management agency was able to send the message as a voice, text, email and social media post with a single set of actions and just clicking the different delivery methods they wanted to use.  Every recipient of the message was able to retrieve the image of the escapee, regardless of how they got the original message.  And the easy integration of Facebook made it simple for the message to appear on the county EM’s Facebook page, where it was shared by hundreds – and possibly thousands – of other people.

Emergency message sent by Bath County EM



Unfortunate Press about NWS Weather Predictions

We’re not taking a position on whether the NWS did the right or wrong thing in its weather forecasting for northeastern cities early this week.  But we are sad to see its credibility damaged.

Among others, the Drudge Report, NY Post and even CBS News are running a story that suggests that the NWS “knowingly misled the public” in forecasting more snow than both actually happened and – more importantly – their models showed as likely as the storm got closer.

As CBS News reported:  “But that day, some of the agency’s models were already changing. It appeared crippling amounts of snow could miss large cities like New York and Philadelphia. However, the weather service didn’t downgrade its forecasts until early Tuesday morning, when the storm was already underway.”

The attack on the NWS – and beyond – was swift.  The NY Post declared that “meteorologists don’t trust the public to decide for itself” and Drudge tweeted: “”Overreaction by govts, bad forecasting…very troubling trend!!”  And a news blog called the Gothamist wrote: “…the National Weather Service deliberately lied to you because they thought you were too stupid to deal with a slightly more reasonable forecast.”   Drudge reportedly also used the occasion to slam “climate hysterics”.  And even the Washington Post accused the weather service of making a bad judgment call.

Since we provide automated weather alerts to our emergency notification clients as part of our standard offering, it’s disheartening to see the NWS take a PR hit like this.  From experience, we know that automated alerts can help people protect themselves from tornadoes flash floods and other imminent disasters and we’d hate to see someone fail to act because the credibility of the NWS was in questions.

Oroville Dam Points to Much Bigger Problem

The recent evacuation of almost 200,000 folks in Butte, Yuba and Sutter Counties in California because of the risks to the Oroville Dam there highlights a huge potential problem in the US.

According to the National Inventory of Dams, there are over 27,000 dams in the US rated as having either high or significant damage potential.  And most dams are more than 50 years old.

In California, more than 100 dams are listed as being in fair or poor condition.  And according to the National Inventory of Dams, almost 100 dams in California have never been inspected.

In 2013, the American Society of Civil Engineers rated US dams with a grade of “D”.  A new report is due out in early March.  Will it show any better grade four years later?

Emergency notification systems are a critical tool in getting the word out on evacuation orders.  So if you live downstream from a dam – any dam – it’s time to sign up for emergency alerts!


Can You Tell The Difference?

We’ve been using Google Translate for our automated translation feature for more than a year now.  While it’s always been OK, recently, it’s gotten much, much better.  If you want to understand why, you can read this great NYTimes article on the subject.  Or you can just look at the example below, which came from an actual emergency alert.

Original Spanish

“Este es un mensaje importante de la oficina del sheriff. Se buscan a dos hombres blancos, uno de ellos está calvo, que fueron vistos por última vez en Upper Hollow Road. Estos hombres están actualmente siendo buscados por las fuerzas de la ley por robo. Por favor, mantenga sus vehículos seguros quitando la llave y bloqueándolos. Si ve algo sospechoso llame al 9 1 1.”

English Option 1

“This is an important message from the sheriff’s department. Be on the look out for two white males, one of which is bald headed, last seen on Upper Hollow Road. These men are currently being pursued by law enforcement for theft. Please secure your vehicles by removing the keys and locking them. If you see anything suspicious call 9 1 1.”

English Option 2

“This is an important message from the sheriff’s office. They look for two white men, one of them is bald, who were last seen on Upper Hollow Road. These men are currently being sought by law enforcement for theft. Please keep your vehicles safe by removing the key and locking them. If you see something suspicious call 9 1 1.”

To make it easy for you to compare, we used a Spanish message and showed you two English translations.  One comes from a human and the other from Google Translate.  You can probably guess the Google one, but not by much.  And both of them are probably just as effective at getting your citizens to understand what to do.

To find out more, give us a call at 877-2-Notify or send a note to

2AM Flash Flood Warning and a Reminder of Why

Last night around 2, my phone – along with thousands of others – sounded an alarm and displayed a Wireless Emergency Alert for flash flooding in Buncombe county, NC.  We are well out of the flood plain, so I decided to get back to sleep.  That took awhile, so the interruption was not welcome.

This morning I was reminded about the importance of such warnings.  One of our news monitoring tools showed a recently published academic paper that discussed the results of flash flooding in Russia in 2012.   Over 5,000 homes were lost and 172 people died.  The paper traced many of the deaths to the lack of an effective emergency notification system to get people evacuated in time.  Of course, we’ve had our own huge flooding here in the U.S., such as the torrential rains and flooding in Texas this spring.

The local news described some rescues that were required last night and some road closures, but no deaths. And more rain is expected tomorrow.

I’ll get over my irritation and be grateful that most communities in the US have good emergency alert systems.

Hyper-Reach Used in a Three-Hour Police Standoff in Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (TWCNews)  —  A domestic situation Friday inside a home on the 100 block of Rosewood Terrace sparked a three-hour police standoff. One man is now in custody and Rochester police officers are searching for a gun.

It started around 2 p.m. Friday when police said they received a phone call from a woman inside who said she was in trouble. Once officers arrived, the woman told police a man inside the house may have had a handgun.

“Any time you have situation with a possible gun, you want to quickly establish a perimeter around the location so the suspect can.t leave the location and no one can go inside,” explained Rochester Police Lieutenant LaRon Singletary.

The perimeter was just feet away from an School No. 33, which had just dismissed, but there were still a few students on the elementary school campus.

A Rochester City School District spokesperson said about a dozen kids were in the school for open gym time, so the school called their parents to pick them up.

“We had the area contained to Rosewood Terrace. Individuals were told to evacuate to the Webster Avenue side. There was no danger to anyone who was inside the school. We did place officers inside the school so that anyone inside the school was aware of what was going on,” Singletary said.

Neighbors in the area received a Hyper-Reach call alerting them to take shelter and remain inside their homes as police, SWAT, and hostage negotiators tried to get the man out of the home. 

Nearly three hours after the situation started, police went into the home and arrested the man without any problems. Singletary said it was best possible outcome.

“Time was on our side. We utilized SWAT Team, hostage negotiations. The initial responding officers were able to quickly set up a perimeter and contained the situation.”

The suspect is facing charges, which could range from menacing to possible criminal possession of a weapon if a gun is found.