Communication Through the Next Stages of the Covid-19 Crisis

You already know how important communication is to your public during this incredibly stressful time. And you know how challenging it is. This article is meant to help you anticipate what’s coming and it affects your communication. We don’t pretend to have the answers to these issues, but we think it’s important to recognize them and try to consider how they might affect your messages and their impacts.

We see five big things happening over the next few months that will affect your Covid communication strategy:

  1. The election. The level of political polarization among Americans is at a particularly high level. You already know this, of course, and we expect this polarization to get worse as we get closer to November 3. 

Researchers in this area have documented how political differences affect the reception by the public to health measures. In addition, many researchers believe that as “polarization progresses, the less likely individuals will be moved by the words or actions of others.”

  1. The economy. While the US has managed to avoid the full impacts of a deep recession during the first six months of the pandemic and has already begun to recover, many economists think we are headed for a much rougher time in the months ahead. (Although this assessment, too, has partisan differences.) As extended unemployment benefits and other stimulus measures run out, these economists warn that we will see sharp increases in permanent layoffs, hunger and other impacts. One poll of employers suggests that half are planning further layoffs along with making temporary furloughs permanent, while over 200,000 jobs cuts have been recently announced by several prominent companies. Although evictions have been delayed by a recent CDC order, one estimate of the number of people at risk of eviction is 19 – 23 million. 
  1. The weather. As summer comes to a close and the fall approaches, some health experts expect the number of Covid-19 infections to spike; what some have referred to as a “second wave.” Beyond that, there is also the fear that flu season will compound the issues of the pandemic, in part because flu symptoms are similar to those of Covid-19.  
  1. The school season. Whether schools in your area are returning to in-person classes, going with remote learning or following a hybrid model, this is a dynamic situation that is likely to continue to evolve.  For areas that are planning on in-person classes, there is the risk that infection spread will force policy makers to rethink their choices and send students home. Whether they choose to remain with in-person classes or not, there will be public pressure from some residents to reverse that decision if infections spike.  Similarly, for areas that choose not to resume in-person classes, there will be pressure from other residents to re-open schools. 
  1. Advances in medicine. The enormous investments around the world made to combat the pandemic are beginning to bear fruit. There are promising advances in treatments and several potential vaccines that are going into clinical trials. Sadly, political polarization will impact this area as well, with criticisms – as we have seen – of new treatments, such as convalescent plasma. The same is likely to be true of vaccines, with some parties concerned about shortcuts in the approval process and others pushing for more rapid development and deployment. 

We think that all of these forces boil down to one major theme: a tremendous level of noise in the public space – on social media, in-person and in many other forums. This noise represents a challenge in itself, making it difficult for you to be effective with any messages you need to communicate to your citizens.  And it also represents a potential danger, as false information leads people to avoid protecting themselves, or worse, actively harming themselves or others. 

Given all of these challenges, what can you do?  Here are some thought starters, most of which you are hopefully already familiar with: 

  1. Communicate often. Give your residents monthly, weekly or even daily updates on the Covid-19 situation in your community and resources that can help them.  Make it clear that you’re a resource they can rely on. 
  2. Keep your messages short and simple. Clear, simple messages are better than detailed ones, even if you must sacrifice precision. Clarity is paramount. 
  3. Be transparent. Let citizens know where you are getting your information from so they can evaluate it for themselves. In a politically-polarized climate, being transparent is your best defense against claims of bias. If you’re concerned about the impact on being “short and simple” put your source information on a website. 
  4. Use all the tools. You have an enormous range of communication tools at your fingertips.  Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor and others let you communicate in the same places that your residents might otherwise find misinformation. Use your mass notification system, which – if it’s Hyper-Reach – will easily integrate with most social media outlets. You can also use press releases, your community website, blog posts and much more.  
  5. Get help. The CDC, WHO and others are offering many free resources to inform and shape your message. Here are some of our favorites:

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Google News Covid Information Center

MedPage Today Covid News

Contract tracing playbook

Are You Paying a Fair Price for Your ENS?

Have you ever wondered if you are paying a fair price for your Emergency Notification System or what a fair price would be? We have wondered the same thing, and we were curious to know what counties and cities across the US are paying on average for their Emergency Notification System. 

We recently analyzed several  databases we have access to (including data from cities and counties we’ve called on) and we discovered a lot of interesting information we wanted to share with you. We hope this helps you determine if you are paying a fair price for your Emergency Notification System and if there is an opportunity for you to save money. 

Here’s some of what we found:

  • Obviously, the cost increases as the number of people increases, so what you pay may be quite different than these averages.  (there’s a lot of difference in size between a county of, say, 100,000 and one with 500,000.) 
  • In addition, on a per-resident basis, the cost of a mass emergency notification system goes down as the population increases.  So a county of say 5 million people might only pay twice as much as one with 1 million people, even though there are five times as many people.

Something interesting we also found is that ENS costs differ from state to state. For instance, for populations of 50,000-100,000, Idaho and Ohio spend the least amount of money for their Emergency Notification Services: $5,850, and $9,528 respectively. New York and North Carolina pay the most with New York coming in at an average of $32,400 and North Carolina at $27,151.

You can check the average price of ENS services for your own state and population here (*Please note, we only analyzed states where we had enough data):

We know that the upcoming fiscal year is going to be very tough for local governments.  Forecasters predict budget cuts of up to 30% for many jurisdictions with some looking at even more significant cuts. But Hyper-Reach wants to help. Because we’re typically less expensive than our biggest competitors, we can probably offer you the same capabilities you have today, and save you as much as 30%.  

We’ve also created a new program we call the “Covid-19 Relief Package.” It offers a three-year contract with a deeply discounted rate in the first year to help you get through the fiscal crisis we’re all expecting as a result of the pandemic. 

Want to know more about our Covid-19 Relief Package?  Request our demo today.

2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season is Here!

As the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season continues to grow at a record setting pace (an even higher rate than originally predicted by forecasters) Emergency Managers are critical to effective emergency communication. Experts are anticipating 25 named storms this season, according to the NOAA’s forecast, with almost half becoming hurricanes.

It’s crucial to get prepared as much as possible for the upcoming storms.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Here are 5 hurricane preparation steps that Emergency Managers can take in advance to get ready for the season and communicate effectively during an emergency:

  1. Make sure you use all the tools available for delivering alerts to the public when the hurricane hits. Technology is improving quickly and there are more communication channels today than ever before. Relying primarily on one communication method is not a recommended strategy as people across the US consume content differently. For instance, older adults tend to rely more on older technology, such as landline phones, while a younger audience uses social media frequently.

The more communication channels you use, the better chance you will have to reach a larger audience. An effective solution is an  Emergency Notification System that lets you send out emergency alerts via multiple communication channels with just one click: landline phone calls, text messages, social media and email. This guarantees reaching as much of your community as possible.

Did you know that you can even send alerts over smart speakers now? Want to learn how? Click here for more information.

  1. Start preparing your community before the hurricane arrives. Those steps can include: sending updates on the hurricane status and what steps are being taken to protect those in the community, what steps experts recommend to take when the hurricane hits, engaging your audience to participate in discussion and posting updates on socials and your website. If your Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff’s Office or other offices that are responsible for sending out emergency alerts do not have a social media presence, it’s time to create them and encourage your residents to follow you for important updates and alerts. It’s also a great opportunity to remind people to sign up with your current Emergency Notification System if they yet haven’t done that and highlighting that they would have a better chance of receiving alerts and updates from you if they register. 
  1. Consider adding IPAWS – IPAWS technology lets you send severe emergency alerts to cell phones even if people are not signed up with your current Emergency Notifications system. It has become a powerful tool in delivering emergency alerts since more and more people rely on smartphones as a primary device of communication. Recent FEMA updates have made IPAWS messages an even more sophisticated tool. Now you can send up to 360-character messages, including links and pictures. Adding IPAWS to your Emergency Notification System can help fill in the gaps and reach even more people.
  1. Create message templates and focus more on dealing with an emergency during the storm. Templates will also help to eliminate ambiguity and errors , giving you more time to work on the correct formulation. Keep your templates simple and concise. Also, make sure your message is within the character limit. For example, Twitter messages length is up to 280 characters, IPAWS WEA messages – up to 360 characters, and SMS messages should not exceed 918 characters. It’s good to have these three types of message templates at your disposal:
    • Pre-storm templates – the purpose of this type of templates is to prepare your community for the hurricane. Send them updates of the hurricane status, provide advice on shelter in place and evacuation options etc.
    • Hurricane alert templates in the wake of the storm – just before a hurricane hits, you’ll need to send out the hurricane alert with an approximate time and area affected in the description.

Post-storm templates communicate on the recovery process. You may need to send out a “boil your water” or “blackout” alert as a consequence of the storm or inform people when they are safe to return to their home, etc.

5. Create an emergency plan for your staff. Identify who is responsible for what task and what role they will play. Arrange a staff meeting and share the plan. A detailed preparation plan will help you to eliminate confusion and react faster during a storm.

6. These sources provide useful information and will help you to stay updated: 

Effective emergency communication is about more than sharing accurate and timely information, it’s about helping your residents be ready to receive your information using their preferred communication method. The steps above will help to ensure that you are reaching a broad audience effectively. 

Help us help you and your peers: Let us know what your must-do hurricane preparation steps are in the comments below. We’ll be glad to share your best practices on our blog and social media.