Feature of the Month: Local Caller ID

Every once in a while we get asked by a customer if we can do something they’ve seen or heard of in another emergency notification system.  And almost always, it’s an existing feature of the Hyper-Reach system.  Sometimes it’s something we’ve had for years. 

Because Hyper-Reach has so many features and benefits and it can be hard to keep track of them all, we’ve decided to focus on one new feature each month, mostly as a reminder that they are available to you, usually at no additional cost, as part of your Hyper-Reach system. 

This month, let’s talk about our local Caller ID feature. With local Caller ID, we can display a local number as the caller ID when we call your residents. This lets them know that the call is coming from someone in their area and is less likely to get ignored by residents as a spam call. We can even display your agency name as the originator of the call – although that won’t show up on some phones. And for a small additional fee, we can provide you with more than one local caller ID, to identify other agencies or departments within your jurisdiction. 

So if you don’t have a local caller ID number established for your account, or would like additional numbers, just call your Hyper-Reach sales or support contact. We’ll be glad to get you set up. 

Sirens Giving Way to Emergency Alert Systems

Emergency notification systems historically serve to provide warnings about emerging threats to give people enough time to protect themselves and the people they love. 

In the United States and in many places across the world sirens became commonplace following World War II. In 1970 these same sirens were given a second responsibility, to warn people of tornadoes. And once the Cold War ended, sirens were primarily used for tornado warnings.

Technology has changed a lot since 1970. 

Increasingly in the past decade, we are seeing more and more emergency preparedness experts warn that outdoor warning sirens are becoming obsolete. We are also seeing a pattern of counties that are retiring their outdoor sirens (even in places like Oklahoma where sirens are used widely across the state) and moving toward more modern ways of weather and other emergency notifications, such as Hyper-Reach, which combines text messages, voice calls and email with Wireless Emergency Alerts, smartphone apps and even advanced communication tools, such as browser alerts and smart speakers.

This trend is not limited to the United States. A recent article in CNN  profiles France, which is putting a WEA-like system in place. Referring to sirens, an official in Normandy noted, “We can’t manage 21st century crises with a 20th century tool.”

Earlier this year, Mobile County Alabama announced that their outdoor warning sirens will not be repaired or replaced and the system will cease operating this year. The county is strongly encouraging their citizens to engage more precise and efficient means of receiving location-based emergency alerts Mobile County to phase out outdoor warning sirens | WPMI (mynbc15.com)

Mobile County’s oldest outdoor warning siren has been in service since 1954 and the newest since 2016. Four of the outdoor warning sirens became operational in the 1950s and most are more than 20 years old. 

“Spending an estimated $15 million to update a system established around the time of World War II is not an effective use of resources, particularly when wireless emergency alerts, smartphone apps and weather radios provide faster, more location-pinpointed information,” said Mobile County Emergency Management Agency Deputy Director Mike Evans, who coordinated the cost-benefit analysis.

While sirens will continue to be used in many areas as an important method of outdoor notification, there are benefits of using a MNS in conjunction with outdoor sirens.  Limitations of sirens include:  

  • Sirens tell us something is happening, but not what. Emergency notifications give specific details that sirens cannot relay. 
  • Although some people may be able to hear these sirens inside of their homes, sirens may not be loud enough to wake people who are sleeping or be heard in all circumstances.
  • Not all areas of an alert area are, or ever could be, covered by outdoor warning sirens. Most sirens have a coverage area of between 2/3rd and 3/4ths of a mile radius and area topography prevents these from being an effective warning system for outlying areas, which is why they are found in more populated areas.

By comparison, emergency alert systems can deliver specific, targeted information that reaches people effectively.  As John Harsh, Emergency Management Director, Morrow County OH told us, 

“We’ve found that when severe weather alerts come through, Hyper-Reach has sent a notification up to a minute and a half faster than we can even get the warning sirens going and people are already in their safe space.”   

With severe weather events and other emergency situations increasing in frequency and severity, we’re not suggesting that anyone give up the tools they have available to alert the public. So enhancing a  working siren system with emergency alerts makes sense to us. But since resources will always be limited, if a county has to choose between a mass notification system and a siren system, we think the choice is obvious.

The Toll On Mental Health from Natural Disasters

Many studies report that natural disasters have short-term and long-term mental health consequences, such as depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSS), anxiety, and suicide among disaster survivors. 

A recent study supports this point. It focused on survivors of Hurricane Irma in 2017 and reported that while “the strongest association to PTSS was from direct loss or injury”, previous hurricane-related loss or injury, previous mental health ailments, not evacuating from an evacuation zone, and even hurricane-related media exposure were also associated with a linear increase in PTSS.

So people who go through disasters experience negative mental health consequences both from direct stress and repeated exposure to disasters. In other words, some people become more susceptible to psychological symptoms with each disaster.

And due to climate change, natural disasters will become even more frequent and severe over the coming decades. Wildfires, floods, hurricanes and more are all expected to increase in frequency and severity. And the timing and location of these events is becoming less predictable. 

That’s why it’s important for emergency managers and first responders to take into account the possible negative impact of natural disasters on mental health and interfere whenever possible. Here’s how you can help your community decrease the negative effect of natural disasters on people’s mental health:

Start by reaching out to your community mental health service organizations and determine the best ways to help them inform your community before a disaster strikes:

  • You might ask them to communicate the possible negative effect of natural disasters on mental health and create materials that can be communicated through the alert system, using links and phone numbers. 
  • Leverage mental health organizations’ sites and social media accounts and your own local government website and social media. Ask local mental health providers to include links to your signup page and website, while you promote their online presence.
  • These organizations can also help you to locate people with serious mental illnesses before disaster hits and provide them with needed support during an evacuation. 
  • Monitor the mental health of first responders and recovery workers and refer them to local support organizations. Continue to follow up with them after traumatic events and remember that recovery can take months and even years.

Here are some other useful resources both for first responders and survivors:

  1. Behavioral Health Resources | SAMHSA….
  2. Crisis Text Line – ResponderStrong 
  3. Help Line | Frontline Responder Services (frontlinerehab.com)
  4. Lifeline (suicidepreventionlifeline.org)
  5. Emotional Recovery | Disaster Relief | Red Cross
  6. Lifeline (988lifeline.org)

The Power of Simple

We believe that innovation does not require complexity. In fact, the most successful innovations are often the simplest. 

Most people aren’t aware that the first iteration of Instagram, the photo-sharing mobile app, was a complicated and feature-laden app called “Burbn”. CEO Kevin Systrom stepped back and cut out the clutter, paring it down into something people could understand and use in 30 seconds. Snap a photo, choose a filter to transform it into a work of art, and quickly share it through social media. Result? Instagram amassed two million users in only four months, a rate of growth faster than Foursquare, Facebook, and Twitter at the time, and was then famously acquired by Facebook.

While we have a long history of “firsts” in Emergency Notification innovation, we also work hard at keeping our system as simple as possible. Here are some examples of firsts and how we kept things simple:

  • As the first hosted mass notification systems, we eliminated the need for separate computers, phone lines and software;
  • With Google Maps to target alerts, the system is instantly familiar and easy to learn;
  • Our fully automated weather notifications eliminates the need for staff to manually send those out;
  • We were the first to send IPAWS messages AND we made it a seamless part of the system to allow including WEA messages as part of the same workflow;
  • Providing a local caller-ID for voice calls made it easier for citizens to know the call was local;
  • Combining phone and text to the same number to simplify the promotion of community sign-up;
  • Easily integrating the delivery of emergency alerts through Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

The benefit to you is a simpler, easier-to-use system that anyone can be trained to use in just a few hours. Which means you can send messages faster and spend less time in training. You can even send a message on the go with our Hyper-Reach Launch app. And it’s fully integrated with IPAWS.

With a system that’s designed to be simple, mistakes are difficult to make.  Hyper-Reach uses a simple three-step process that makes sending a message a snap. It’s so simple that users of other systems tell us that it’s the easiest, fastest, simplest system they have seen.

We appreciate… the ease of use of the interface. The IPAWS interface is particularly efficient and easy, when compared to similar solutions.”, – Eric. H, Emergency Manager

“The App is the easiest way to send a message.” – Jacques Thibodeaux, Emergency Preparedness Director

It is simple enough for us to use daily, but is capable of expanding as needed during our peak times.”  – Robert G., EMA Director

The best systems offer lots of capability while keeping their systems simple and easy to use. That’s why we are determined to remain the easiest-to-use full-featured emergency mass notification service. 

Your ENS should help you and your staff work smarter, not harder. Which is why we don’t have a “University” for training. Anyone with a high school diploma can use our system. 

And the same applies to your residents. Signing up should be as easy as saying “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach”. 

To see our system in action, book our free online demo today. 

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