Text Beats Talk in Emergency Alerts

A recent news item we saw says that 59% of survey respondents prefer to get emergency alerts by text, rather than by a voice call.

That’s not a surprise.  We did a quick search on Google news and found many articles showing the same thing in many different contexts.  Men who prefer to text rather than call girlfriends, low income patients who prefer text to interact with health care providers, college-age students, etc., etc.

It’s not everyone.  59% means that 41% prefer voice or some other method.  But it’s important.

So if folks prefer text, they need to register so you have their mobile number.  So why not give them the option to sign up for emergency alerts via text?  We’ve developed just such a method.  Drop us a note at jveilleux@ashergroup.com to find out more.

Why We Went to the County Fair

Last month, we decided to see if we could sign up residents with a booth at the Burke County, NC county fair (Burke County is a Hyper-Reach client.)  We learned a lot about getting citizens signed up for emergency alerts, lessons that can be put to good use by any agency trying to get more folks registered.  Here’s a quick summary:

  1. Give something away in exchange.  We tripled registrations by offering an inexpensive prize ($64 at Wal-Mart).
  2. Emphasize the word “FREE”.  Many people assumed we were charging for the service, which was our mistake.  When we made it clear that the cost of emergency alerts was paid by the county, we eliminated that problem.
  3. People may think they are signed up when they are not.  There are so many alert services (especially weather) we thought there was a lot of confusion.
  4. A web form is not enough.  We offered folks three ways to sign up at the booth: our new text-based sign up process, a paper form and the web.  No one used the web, but many used the other two.

Since wireless phones are so important (even people with landlines told us they don’t use them much), registration is critical.  So we’ve put together a “registration kit” with all of the materials we’ve developed so far.  Send us an email if you want a copy.  Burke Fair 2

Signing up for Emergency Alerts using SMS

We’re adding a new way for residents to register for local emergency alerts. It’s simple, easy and makes a ton of sense: using SMS.

The process starts by texting a message to our registration number. For example, send “burkealerts” to 828-201-3877 (assuming you’re in Burke Count, NC). You’ll get a reply asking for your address.

Then for confirmation, we’ll ask for your name.

Third, we’ll ask for an email address, in case you want messages sent there.

Last, we’ll ask for the numbers of other people you think should be signed up.

Terms and conditions are here: https://secure.hyper-reach.com/comsignup-disclaimer.jsp?id=40005

After all, if we’re going to get people to register their phones, doesn’t it make sense to use the device we want them to register?

Duplicate Amber Alerts Annoy New York Phone Users – Some Turn Off Alerts

Yesterday’s Amber Alert for 16-year old Cassidy Geffert has had another ugly outcome.  In addition to creating controversy and disturbing a lot of people, it also resulted in some people turning off the alerts on their phone altogether.

Around 1:30 yesterday an alert went out telling people to look out for a black 2006 SAB sedan.

It seems that for many mobile phone customers the alert was repeated over and over again.  One AT&T customer tweeted that he got alerts at noon, 1:25pm, 4:55pm, 6:07pm, 9:45pm, 11:08pm on the 23rd, then at 2:33am, 4:28am, 7:35am, and 11:10am on the 24th.  Another person tweeted that he got 48 alerts and that they kept him “up all night”, while a third tweeter said she’d gotten 20.  We called the NY State Police and were told that they’d had similar reports by email.

The specific type of alert discussed in these tweets is not certain.  Public safety officials have several alerting systems available to them, including NY Alerts, Hyper-Reach, and others.  But a few tweets included pictures of the alerts as they appeared on the user’s phones.  In addition, Hyper-Reach personnel received some of these duplicates, so we know that at least some of the alerts were from the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, also known as IPAWS, which is administered by FEMA.

In addition to the frustration and anger the duplicate alerts have caused, some people have turned off the WEA alert function on their phones in response.  As one tweeter put it: “kept getting that #expired #amberalert from #yesterday once an hour upon getting to #work. Turned them off completely.”

The WEA function is provided by default by most wireless carriers and is installed on most phones manufactured in the past few years.  But – with the exception of alerts sent by the President of the US – WEA alerts can be turned off by the customer.  Unfortunately, customers who chose to do this will not only avoid Amber Alerts, they will also miss National Weather Service alerts about severe weather and other public safety warnings that could save their lives.

An irony of the situation is that yesterday’s Amber Alert was false to begin with.  Geffert was found an hour later at a Brockport, NY hotel and arrested for grand larceny.  Police have confirmed that she was not abducted, although they have not commented further on the case.

Duplicate Amber Alerts

Duplicate Amber Alerts

Here’s an edited collection of the Tweets we found in the past 8 hours:

Thanks for the Amber Alert yesterday at noon, 125pm, 455pm, 607pm, 945pm, 1108pm & today at 233am, 428am, 735am, then 5 mins ago. PLS STOP.

Does anyone else keep getting the Rochester Amber alert on there phone?

“Omg the amber alert went off again ***”

For the 8th time, I’ve received the amber alert from yesterday. #illuminati

I just got that amber alert again like really

this amber alert keeps going off in mine and Tyler’s phones!

@TheBuffaloNews Here’s a story for you. Tmobile customers getting bombarded with the same amber alert over and over pic.twitter.com/HY5lA8Dv1c

Why is this Amber alert still comming to my phone

Is my phone the only one still getting an Amber Alert?

Anyone else get another amber alert?

Alright you can stop with the amber alert texts now they found her

Hey @ATT please stop sending me yesterday’s Amber Alert. We’re in @CHSBuffalo Labor/Delivery, you keep waking our newborn. You’ve sent 10x!

Just got the amber alert on my phone again,?

I keep getting this ******* Amber alert

I’ve gotten the same amber alert to my phone 4 times. The chick was found yesterday. *** ****.

why did my amber alert go off again

If I get 1 more Amber Alert text I’m going to flip out, have sent me 48 messages keepin me up all night. *** they found this girl yesterday

Soooo why ** did another amber alert get sent to my phone . . . I now have 20 .

why am I still getting the amber alert?

****ing #annoying, kept getting that #expired#amberalert from #yesterday once an hour upon getting to #work. Turned them off completely.

Why the **** am I still getting this damn amber alert to my phone ? 

Preparation for Weather Anomalies

With all our latest technology and developments that have been made regarding weather predictions, we still do not have the capabilities to fully prepare those vulnerable to disastrous storms.

On Monday night, twin tornadoes swept through northeast Nebraska. Although this phenomenon isn’t unprecedented, it is rare. The two tornadoes continued their path of destruction with similar strength and were separated by almost a mile at one point. The storm ravaged the town of Pilger, Nebraska with at least one death.

Residents of these areas may be prepared for one tornado with one path of destruction, but adding another is devastating and unexpected. These anomalies further the need of reliable emergency notification systems, especially in areas prone to severe weather. It also validates the importance for residents to register their information for their local alert system.

Signing up is quick and easy. Visit the US National Emergency Alert Registry page at www.usnear.org and you will be plugged into your local notification system.

Mobile Alerts May Be Bothersome, Yet Essential.

At times, cell phones can be more trouble than they’re worth. Especially when you consider the irrelevant and untimely emergency notifications that cause your phone to go haywire! This is how many Boston residents felt a couple of weeks ago when they suddently receive flash flood warnings. Naturally, most people do not enjoy being notified of emergency that are not relevant to them. Why would someone care about flooding if they are living in a high rise or apartment building? Furthermore, if these alerts wake residents up, it becomes more of a nuisance than helpful.

However, is opting out of these emergency notifications what our response should be? Citizens should be encouraged to stay signed up for these alerts. We are not always prepared for emergencies, but with even a short notice, we can make decisions that could save our lives. These emergency notifications on our cell phones do save lives and are vital to our society. Eric Randall recently wrote:

“Recall the lines of people waiting to charge their iPhone in Manhattan after Hurricane Sandy, and it’ll remind you        that cell phones are one of our last sources of connectivity in times of mass power outage and emergency. Just as          an older generation once gathered around the radio to listen to presidential messages in the wake of disasters, our        generation should take comfort that we have a high-tech way to connect to our emergency services that doesn’t            require our power lines to be up and running (at least until our battery runs out.) These alerts are annoying,                    particularly when we don’t feel very threatened by the flash flood that woke us up from our pre-Wednesday                    slumber, but the alerts do give us a modern-day way to stay connected in dark times. And that is something to                consider when staring down the opt-out switch.”

Through Hail and High Water

Severe weather can have an extremely damaging impact on communities. Often times we think about the damage of tornadoes, heavy winds, hurricanes, and earthquakes. However, they are other assailants that accompany these storms that can cause major damage. Hail can be devastating to towns and cities. Parts of Nebraska and Iowa experience the destruction of hail a few days ago. Roofs can collapse, glass shatters, and drivers caught off guard can loose control of their vehicle. Hail can cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose power and be left in the dark.

The good news from this? With emergency weather notificiations sent to specific areas that will be effected, including those on roads or highways, residents and passerbys have time to prepare. Buisness and homeowners can throw up panels to protect their windows. Drivers have time to seek shelter under bridges or parking decks. Residents can prepare for power outages.

It is important to keep yourself safe and informed with the lastest weather updates by signing up for emergency alerts. You can register for your local alerts at www.usnear.org.

Mobile Phone Emergency Alerts

Even with all the technology we have today, it is still difficult to predict where tornadoes will occur. Every year there are many communities that do not expect a tornado to hit and are not well prepared. This is the case with McKenzie County in North Dakota. Only 14 tornadoes have been reported since 1950 and no deaths. Fortunately, this most recent EF-2 tornado did not claim any lives, although it hit an oil field worker’s camp which is primarily trailers. Trailer parks are generally the most vulnerable and dangerous during a tornado due to lack of sturdy shelter. The residents received an emergency notification on their mobile phones which allowed several people to find the best place possible for cover.

Despite areas that are vulnerable during disasters, it is critical and life saving for residents to receive emergency alerts. Just a few minutes warning can be enough time to find the safest place near you for protection. It is also important for families to discuss these safe areas in case of these events.

The Importance of Tornado Emergency Notifications

On April 28th, several communities in north eastern Mississippi were hit by a F3 tornado. The damage was spanned over 24 miles and the tornado lasted for 26 minutes. In Itawamba County, east of Tupelo, there were no deaths although several houses were completely destroyed. A longtime resident of Ozark gave credit to the areas emergency notification system. He said the tornado alerts gave him and his family plenty of time to seek shelter in their storm cellar. Residents responded to these notifications and because of the warnings, several lives were saved.

Tornadoes can cause devastating damage and kill hundreds of people because they happen so quickly. However, with warning, even if it is just several minutes, those in the projected path of destruction can prepare and keep their families safe.

Emergency Alerts: Even Success Leaves Room for Improvement

Earlier this month, Tuscaloosa’s emergency notification system failed to send an automated warning message when a tornado was imminent.

While that failure is disturbing, we’re also disturbed by the “success” of an earlier use of the system.  Last January, a call was sent out to all 25,000 people listed in the system.  But there are almost 36,000 households and over 90,000 people in Tuscaloosa.  And of the 25,000 calls, about 9,000 failed.  So only 16,000 people or less than 45% of households got a call.

This kind of failure illustrates how important registration is. Most of the people in the calling list came from telephone company listings, so that’s just the landline phone at home.  So about 16,000 households without a landline number aren’t listed.  In addition, calls to a home phone often go unanswered because no one’s home or the phone is busy.  If everyone registered and included their cell phone, there would be multiple ways to reach folks and everyone would have a chance to be warned.

One reason why folks don’t register is that it’s hard to find the registration page for any given community.  Which is why we’re proud to sponsor the US National Emergency Alert Registry, which helps folks get registered anywhere in the US – even with our competitors.