AlertSmart(tm) Means Accessible Alerts for the Blind and Visually Disabled

We’ve been talking about AlertSmart™ for weeks now. AlertSmart is our new process for delivering mass notification and emergency alerts through Alexa-enabled smart speakers. And it’s a big deal, because smart speakers will be a powerful way for people to communicate in a few short years.  

Thanks to Hyper-Reach, smart speakers can be a powerful way for public safety and emergency managers to communicate to the public today. That’s because there are now more smart speakers in the US than home landlines. And getting your residents to turn on AlertSmart for their Alexa units is as simple as saying, “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach.”

But there’s an added benefit to AlertSmart: providing access to emergency alerts for the blind. 

Because AlertSmart can help you deliver emergency alerts and mass notification services to the blind (and the deaf, actually, but that’s another story.) And that can be useful for meeting the requirements of grants, federal and state laws and your own sense of obligation to all your citizens. 

Smart speakers are game-changing technology for the blind community. They provide accessibility by voice and sound and make tasks much easier than previous technologies could.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Easy access to news/information, websites and searches
  • Time and list management
  • Making home automation and security easier
  • Controlling appliances, thermostats and other home devices
  • Access to audiobooks and music
  • Finding and using recipes
  • Providing fashion assistance (with a camera-enabled device, such as the Echo Show)
  • Reading pill bottles, recipes and other written material (requires camera-enabled device)
  • Communicating, either by phone or text (“Alexa, call Mom.”) and even playing games. 

As one Alexa user reported to Amazon: “I am totally blind, so being able to tell Alexa what to do is wonderful. I like the fact, we can get videos, tv shows, music, etc. for us to listen to.”

While no one appears to know exactly how many of the blind have smart speakers, there are clues from other sources. One publication estimates that 95% of blind people have a smartphone, suggesting that the blind can be avid technology adopters. A recent study by Strategy Analytics says “smart home devices such as smart speakers were used by the vast majority of the blind or visually impaired participants in our research.” Every publication dedicated to the blind seems to have articles on smart speakers. And the National Federation for the Blind has created special services to be delivered over Alexa units.

And Amazon Alexa devices seem to be the smart speaker of choice for the blind. A CBC radio report says “Amazon Echo seems to be coming out on top…among the blind community.” And Martin Ralfe, of UK’s Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, describes the Amazon Echo as “the most successful product on the planet” for accessibility for the blind. 

The bottom line here is that delivering emergency alerts through Alexa and other smart speakers is an effective way to provide an additional level of meaningful access to the blind. And that’s important for emergency managers and public safety officials who have both a moral obligation to serve all of their citizens and potential legal obligations to provide access, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Section 308 of the Stafford Act and related federal and state regulations. 

So if you’re an existing Hyper-Reach customer, ask us how AlertSmart can help you deliver emergency alerts to all your citizens. And if you’re not using Hyper-Reach, find out how we can help you.

Help Your Community and Save Money Without Compromise

It’s no secret that many state and local budgets are getting hammered by Covid-19 and its aftereffects. Most states are suffering revenue cuts of 1% to 10% or more. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Policy analysts estimate state and local revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic will total about $300 billion through fiscal year 2022, though that doesn’t include rising expenses.”  And those “rising expenses” can be significant, including mitigation efforts associated with Covid, such as ventilation systems, sanitizing protocols, etc.

So most agencies within state and local governments are, or should be, under considerable budget pressure. Which drives many of them to look for savings, even if it’s not their budget on the chopping block. After all, if an agency can find savings for their community – savings that don’t sacrifice their mission or important functionality – why wouldn’t they act on that?

Which takes us to our favorite topic: mass notification services. Because if you’re using one of our major competitors, such as Everbridge or Onsolve (aka CodeRed), Hyper-Reach can save you big money. And while you might worry that switching to a lower cost service could lose you functionality, reliability or something else, the reality is that Hyper-Reach probably provides everything you care about, and gives you added features you can’t get from our competitors. 

Much of what local governments spend on mass notification is public record, so we can say with confidence that switching to Hyper-Reach is likely to save you real money. And if it doesn’t save you money, switching will probably still get you more for your money. 

How much can we save you? That depends on the size of your community and which company you’re using. But based on our research, the average cost of emergency alert systems across the US is about $0.45 per person. So an average county would spend about $46,000 a year on an emergency alert system, while an average municipality would spend about $7,600.  And we can save that average county more than $11,000 and the average town about $2,000.  

And because of the way that many mass notification companies price their services, we might save you a lot more than that. Because you could be paying a lot more than the average. Our analysis shows that some communities are paying much more per capita than their neighboring counties or cities. 

Even if we can’t save you total dollars, you could be getting much more from Hyper-Reach than your current provider. For example, most emergency notification providers charge extra for automated weather alerts; we include them standard. We also include IPAWS, unlimited social media feeds, unlimited administrative users and other features at no additional charge. 

And we have features that no one else provides. Our latest is AlertSmart™, the only emergency alert system that delivers notifications through Amazon Alexa devices. 

We’re also the mass notification system that’s most focused on helping you reach the mass of your citizens. Which is why we offer more ways to register than any other company, and more help in getting your residents to sign up. Which is why we’ve hit registration levels in some communities of up to 30%, while most of our competitors are lucky to reach 10%.

How well do we deliver on all of these claims? There’s only one way to find out: schedule an online demonstration and see for yourself.

A Deep Freeze Leads to Warm Feelings for Hyper-Reach

One of the more recent communities to choose Hyper-Reach for critical event management is Allen, Texas, a city of more than 100,000 people about 25 miles northeast of Dallas. 

Allen is a booming community. From its start in 1876, its population stayed in the hundreds into the 1950’s, then exploded in the last few decades. Among the many things Allen is known for is the largest football stadium in the US built for a single high school – a $60 million, 18,000 seat capacity facility where the Allen Eagles are undefeated. It’s also the location of the first train robbery in Texas.

Like the rest of Texas, Allen was hammered with bitter cold and snow in mid-February, shutting off the power, setting off fire alarms, and forcing city offices to close. City services, such as trash collection, were interrupted. And the 911 center was flooded with calls about lost power. The city opened shelters from the cold and had to keep citizens informed of evolving issues and progress in resolving them.  

Fortunately, the city had selected Hyper-Reach for mass emergency notification services just a few months earlier, allowing it to keep employees and citizens informed.  

But to send messages out – especially for internal communication – the communications department first had to create contact groups to send the right message to the right people. And because the system was new, it was still a little unfamiliar. 

“Hyper-Reach’s customer service was incredibly responsive”, said Shellie Taylor, Communications Manager. “Our contact person, Chris, made herself available several times a day and even after hours, to make sure we knew what we were doing. Her support was both phenomenal and reassuring.

“And the system itself was simple to use.  It was super easy to import information. On the first day, we created 45 separate groups in about an hour and a half.”

Deputy Chief Ken Myers, credits the system with being much more efficient and effective than prior communication methods.

“In the past, we’ve used calling trees, but with Hyper-Reach, we could let one individual send out mass messages quickly by email, text, home phone and cell phones. Which meant we were able to get the word out much more quickly than before.”

Taylor agrees: “Hyper-Reach has genuinely been extremely helpful and given us the ability to make notifications that we could not have done before.” 

“We have heard over-and-over both internally and from residents how great the communications have been during our snow event. We could not have done it without you!” said Myers.

February’s crazy weather is just the beginning of how Hyper-Reach will help the city of Allen. 

“When we were first looking at the system, said Myers, “we were trying to resolve a specific dispatch issue. But when we saw everything it could do, it was clear that it could do everything we needed and more.”

“Once we saw what Hyper-Reach was capable of, it seemed perfect for city-wide use.  So we got other departments to look at it, including the city managers. As soon as they saw it, almost everyone was in favor of getting it.”

“We’re finding more and more reasons to use it,” continued Myers. “And we really like the event notification feature. That’s going to be very helpful for events later in the year, like our big fireworks show.”

We’re gratified to be able to help the City of Allen and its citizens. And we’re grateful that we can deliver superior service for communities like Allen. 

As Ken Myers said: “We are so glad we made the right choice by going with Hyper-Reach and just wanted to let you know.”