Formatting Content for the Mobile Web

On Monday, we got the following message via my county’s emergency messaging service:

Residents urged to prepare for hazardous weather conditions. Visit for the latest information.

When I clicked on the link, I got the image below (actual screenshot), which is mostly unreadable, because it’s formatted for a computer screen and not for my Samsung Galaxy 4 (which, BTW, has a bigger screen than most phones.)


Now the link came to me over my phone, delivered by text. So to read any of the information here, my options are these:

1) Use my fingers to make the screen bigger, which risks missing the important information (since I’ll only see a quarter or less of the page at any time), or

2) Go find my laptop and look for the link.

To make matters worse, the only substantive content was link to another page (also unreadable on my screen) anda video.

Most surveys on Internet usage are reporting that more than half of Americans’ Internet access is by smartphone, these days. And that share is going to be much higher when the stimulus to get on the web is delivered by phone. So why not format the content for the phone?

If it needs to be delivered by web – and needs to be read or watched – it has to be formatted for the phone, preferably automatically. The technology is there, so there’s no good excuse to do otherwise.

1% Clickthrough Means this: Focus On the Headline

Emergency managers who use Twitter should take this story to heart:  for the vast, vast majority (say, around, 99%), tweets may get read, but links on tweets don’t get clicked.

The story in the Atlantic is in a different context, of course. So maybe more than 1% of your Twitter readers will click through to your content.  But in the absence of data to prove that, we think it’s smarter to assume that they won’t.

And we don’t think this advice is limited to tweets.  Text messages with links may not get read, either.  For example, yesterday, because of an impending winter storm in Charlotte, I got this from the county’s emergency messaging system:

Residents urged to prepare for hazardous weather conditions.  Visit for the latest information.

Yes, I clicked on the link, but I’m in the business of emergency messaging, so that’s a poor sample. And I’ll bet that the vast majority of folks who got that text did not bother.

Whats the lesson here?  Simple.  Write your tweets so they have the information you want to convey.  And if 140 characters aren’t enough, write another tweet.  (We suggest the same thing for IPAWS WEA messages, BTW.)  Don’t assume that people will click on the link, because the odds are not in your favor.


To Tweet Emergency Alerts, Think Headline, Not Links

This article in the Atlantic makes a point that every emergency manager using Twitter needs to have burned in their brain: most people don’t click on links in Tweets to read content.

The article is long and the context is different, but the analysis shows only about 1% clicking a link in a tweet.

Now maybe your stats are better. But unless you’ve got proof, assuming that people will click on your links is just blind speculation.

Images are something else altogether. We’d guess that images get much higher click-through rates, which is useful if you’re using tweets to spread an Amber Alert.

And we think this lesson goes beyond Twitter. Monday, we got this from our county’s emergency alert system:

Residents urges to prepare for hazardous weather conditions. Visit for the latest information.

So get your point across in the tweet or text itself. And if you need more room than 140 characters, send two messages – or more. That’s our advice for IPAWS WEA messages as well.

After all, if it’s worth sending, it’s worth getting through.

Happy Birthday 911!

47 years ago, the first 911 call was placed in Haleyville, AL. On February 16, 1968, the first-ever 911 call was made by Rankin Fite, Alabama Speaker of the House. The call was placed from Haleyville City Hall to to the city’s police station. US Representative Tom Bevill reportedly answered the phone with “Hello.”

Why Alabama? According to one article, the president of Alabama Telephone Company read an article in the Wall Street Journal that AT&T was planning the use of 911 for emergency dialing for what was then called the Bell System. Alabama Telephone was an independent company, so they would not have been included. But Bob Gallagher, the president of ATC, was a competitive guy and wanted to beat AT&T to the punch.

The development of 911 took many years. The UK experimented with 999 in 1937. In the US, the idea of a single number was first proposed by the National Association of Fire Chiefs for reporting fires in 1957.

And after the Haleyville call, it took many years more for 911 to be adopted across the US and for all public safety emergencies (New York city expanded 911 to fire, police and EMS in 1973.)

Today, 911 covers more than 96% of the US.

IPAWS WEA messages should be longer – duh

Here’s a story we knew was coming. A research study at the University of Maryland has concluded that short messages – specifically, the 90 character messages that are standard in IPAWS wireless emergency alerts – are not as effective as longer messages.


Police Departments need more money. Here’s a way to get them some…

This article discusses the desire of many police departments around the country to increase their budgets. Among the things that police departments are looking for our body cameras, improvements and other equipment, and increased staffing.

Here’s a quick way for many police departments to get a little more money for these things. Switching to Hyper-Reach from the other major emergency notification systems will save most departments about 30%. For a city of 100,000 people, the savings could be as much as $10,000 or more.

In addition, Hyper-Reach provides for free many of the things that other emergency notification providers charge for.

And, while most communities will pay less for Hyper-Reach, they may find a service they prefer. Our user interface is one of the easiest to use and allows you to send your messages faster. Our exclusive RecordTime(TM) feature lets you record your message directly on your PC. We provide interfaces with Twitter and Facebook, as well as the IPAWS system. And we focus on maximizing the total number of contacts that you can reach when sending your messages to the public.

So for some quick added flexibility in your budget, give Hyper-Reach a call. You can reach us at 855–266–8439 or send an email to

If US Central Command Can Be Hacked, What’s Your Protection?

It appears that the Twitter and YouTube accounts of US Central Command were hacked yesterday by folks sympathetic to Islamic terrorists. While that’s disturbing in and of itself, for us it raises an interesting issue about the use of social media for emergency alerts.

Many emergency responders and public safety agencies are using Twitter and Facebook, in addition to other tools such as Hyper-Reach, to send out emergency alerts.  (Indeed, Hyper-Reach has social media integration to make it easier to send out alerts that way.)

And, because emergency notification providers such as Hyper-Reach understand that false emergency alert messages can create panic among the public and other potential disruptions, we know how important security is. So we have sophisticated functions to protect against hacking.  In addition, there is a certain benefit to being less conspicuous than a Twitter or Facebook when it comes to avoiding a cyber attack.

But if US Central Command’s Twitter account can be hacked, so can yours. Which means that people who are following your Twitter feeds and see a false emergency alert may potentially be led astray and do something that is contrary to their interests or safety.

Obviously, good password management is important. And it is likely that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media will continue to enhance their security. But this hack attack on US Central Command is a good cautionary tale to remind public safety agencies that use social media for emergency alerts, as well as other emergency alert services, that security is important and should be maintained for every system that is used to communicate to the public.

Mass Emergency Notification Systems – Perfect for the Cloud

Here’s an article about how Asheville, NC (one of our favorite cities) is moving many of their disaster recovery systems to the cloud.

According to the article (and this makes perfect sense), officials there are trying to mitigate risk by putting distance between Asheville and the location of critical data processing functions so that a local disaster doesn’t take out those processes. An interesting note about this article is that the Asheville folks decided not to use regional data centers because they felt the business model of those data centers required oversubscription. So in an emergency too many people would be trying to use the services provided by those data centers.

Since there are still a handful of communities that use emergency notification systems that operate on local computer networks, we thought this would be a good time to point out how valuable cloud-based emergency notification is.

Using Hyper-Reach as an example, we operate three data centers that are strategically spread around the country, and we deliberately maintain a low average utilization rate so that there is plenty of capacity when a community needs to use our services in high volume. As a result, if there is a local disaster that would interrupt computer services, Hyper-Reach’s service would still be available for mass notification.


IPAWS/WEA: CMAText vs. Canned Messages

We’ve written on this topic before, but it never hurts to reiterate the message and push for change.

A recent story from West Virginia illustrates the risk of standard WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) messages.  (To be fair, we’re assuming the offending messages were not CMAtext, which are basically free form text messages).

To quote the story:

“Cell phone users received a message advising them to “evacuate now”.  The message was incomplete, lacking a specific location and details on what sparked the evacuation order.  The same, vague message was received multiple times by some residents, hours after the fire was extinguished and there was no longer a risk of danger.”

This is exactly the issue we discussed in November.  Standard WEA messages often use the phrase “In this area” to tell message recipients the location of an emergency, and rely on the geographical selection of the broadcast area, which is a function of of two factors: the IPAWS originating software and the method used by the cell phone carriers to pick the cell towers from which the message is broadcast.  But “in this area” is pretty vague to many people – including people quoted by the story.

We won’t guess at why the message was received  multiple times by some folks.  But this isn’t the first time that issue has been raised.

That training that is required of Originating Authorities (the people who can send messages) doesn’t discuss the effectiveness of message wording.  So public safety people who use IPAWS may find that the messages they send don’t work the way they expected.

We still think that IPAWS is a great tool.  And many people are using CMAText, which lets you choose the specific wording you want.  But as IPAWS and WEA become more common, it’s going to be incumbent on users of the system to understand what effective communication means in the context of the 90 characters that WEA messages allow.

Roaches to the rescue!

Imagine yourself trapped in a building after a strong earthquake blocks the exits or maybe you’re stuck in the attic during a flood. At some point, some form of panic will set in. You’ll wonder if you will be rescued. Will the building collapse before help comes? What if the waters continue to rise and I drown in my attic?! The thoughts swirl a hundred miles an hour around your head and hope begins to fade.

You quietly whisper your last prayers when you hear a faint hissing sound. Is it the sound of death?! Suddenly a swarm of Madagascar hissing cockroaches enter your place of captivity from all cracks and corners. Things couldn’t get worse! They approach quickly and begin crawling over your feet and body. You do your best to knock them off while screaming frantically with the hopes that Death comes quickly! Unexpectedly, you notice something different about these roaches. There’s something attached to them. You swallow hard, pinch one of them, and examine its small looking backpack. Then, you hear human voices! You’ve been found and realize the tiny backpacks are tracking devices.

Researchers have a hopeful future for our creepy, crawly house mates! “One day, when people see a cockroach, they’ll be relieved instead of repulsed.” Alper Bozkurt, an engineering professor, believes that we can use cockroaches during emergency situations to save lives. He may be a little optimistic thinking that people – even those in dire need of saving – will be welcoming our critter friends with open arms.