To Follow Up or Not? What’s Best Practice in Emergency Alerts?

Here’s a story about a missing person incident in Needham, MA.  It seems that an autistic young woman went missing and two emergency alert calls were sent to the entire town (one by mistake.)  The story says that some residents were upset that they didn’t get a follow up call to tell them the woman was found and returned home safely six hours later.

It seems that Needham uses an emergency alert provider that charges them every time they use the system.  So a follow up call would cost the town hundreds of dollars, according to our information.  And that mistaken second call probably cost hundreds as well.  (They should switch to one of the unlimited use plans Hyper-Reach offers and both save money and avoid this issue.)   

But regardless of cost, what’s the right protocol for follow up information for alerts?  We don’t think there’s one right answer, but here are some thoughts:

  1. More information is usually better than less.  In general, a follow up call is a good idea.
  2. Context is important.  Needham seems like a close-knit community.  In contrast, we’ve seen anecdotal evidence that “missing person” alert calls in big cities are sometimes unwelcome.  And if the call is unwelcome, a follow up call won’t be welcome either.
  3. Time of day is important.  We wouldn’t recommend calling after 9PM for a non-urgent call.  (The woman was found around 10PM.)
  4. There are other ways to deliver follow up information.  A news release could let at least some of the community know.

Hard research is lacking in this area, however.  And it’s something we think is needed.  In the meantime, good judgment is the best alternative.  And it’s best if that judgment isn’t affected by unnecessary financial constraints.

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