Hyper-Reach Increases Texting Capacity

We’ve been growing a lot lately, which is a great thing. We now have customers in more than 30 states from coast to coast and the communities we serve have a combined population of more than 10 million people. 

All that growth means we need to keep growing our calling, texting, emailing and messaging capacity. And we do. Because we’re leveraging the power of the Amazon cloud – as well as other cloud services (for redundancy and reliability) – we have practically unlimited scalability. 

But we also want to speed up our messaging throughput, so that we don’t just keep up, but actually improve our service to you. 

So we’ve recently increased our text messaging throughput by 50%. Which means that when you send a message, it’s going to be delivered faster than ever before.  

It’s our great privilege to serve our customers. And because we appreciate that opportunity we keep looking for ways to serve you better. Please let us know your ideas for how we can do better. And thanks for being a Hyper-Reach customer.

New User Credential Process for Hyper-Reach

As of March 20, Hyper-Reach implemented an enhanced username/password scheme for new and changed PINs, also known as passwords. If you’re an existing Hyper-Reach customer, this won’t affect you or your staff immediately, but you’ll still want to know about it for three reasons: 

  1. This new username/(PIN)password approach provides for more protection for your user accounts. 
  2. The new approach is closer to what most cloud-based systems use today, so it will be more familiar to users who are new to Hyper-Reach. 
  3. Because the new approach is required for any new and changed passwords, your organization will need to use it for any new users or if anyone on staff needs to change their password. 

The new requirements for a username are pretty standard: 

-It must be unique. If you try a username that’s taken, the system will give you an error message. Just pick a different name.

-You can use any combination of printable ASCII characters, except the “%” sign.  That’s almost everything on a standard US keyboard.

-It must be at least 8 characters long. You can use easily remembered usernames such as your email address, first and last name, etc. 

The requirements for a PIN or password are a little different from those for a username:

-Your PIN/password can’t be the same as your username.

-It must be at least 8 characters long. 

-The PIN/password must contain at least 1 digit.

-It must contain at least 1 “special character” – mostly, those are the characters on the top of your keyboard, such as ~, `, !, @, #, etc.

-You must use at least 1 uppercase AND 1 lowercase alpha character.

Examples of valid PIN/passwords are “A2NcF$rTxx”, “1@3$aBcD” and “135&(_xYz”. 

Because these password practices are common for many systems, most people shouldn’t have any problem with them. 

If you’re an existing Hyper-Reach customer and you want to keep your existing usernames and PINs, you are welcome to do that. The system only requires these changes for new or changed PINs/passwords.

And if new users need access for launching campaigns using the IVR/telephone, we can help with that. Just contact customer service for help.

Another Pandemic Just Around the Corner?

COVID-19 wasn’t the world’s first global pandemic and it won’t be the last. A study by the National Academy of Sciences put the probability of a pandemic with similar impact to COVID-19 at 2% in any given year. And that’s based on historical data. The same study estimates that the chance of novel disease outbreaks will grow by 3X in the next few decades. So what if a new pandemic happened this year?

The study’s authors did the math and concluded that it’s highly likely a similar pandemic will happen in the next 59 years. They also note that the probability is the same in any one of those 59 years. So what if it happened this year?

One analyst we follow – Zeynep Tufekci – recently wrote “[the world] is facing the possibility of a pandemic of a far more deadly pathogen [than COVID-19.]”  She was talking about avian influenza – the disease behind the recent huge increase in the price of eggs.  And she’s not alone in warning of the threat.

For birds, avian flu is already a worldwide disaster. It’s been found in 47 US states, as well as 37 European countries, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia. Almost 60 million domestic poultry and more than 100 million in the western hemisphere have died or been culled because of the flu.

Fortunately the particular strain of flu we’re talking about – H5N1 – doesn’t infect mammals very frequently. But that appears to be changing. Last October more than 50,000 mink were destroyed when H5N1 was found at a mink farm in northern Spain. Seals, sea lions, bears, foxes, skunks and humans have all been found with the virus. 

And among humans, it’s pretty deadly. Of the known cases, 56% of H5N1 infections have resulted in death. Of course, the mortality rate can be much lower and still create great havoc, as COVID-19 showed us. 

Because of the increasing numbers of interactions between humans, animals and diseases, the risk of diseases such as H5N1 mutating into something that’s highly transmissible among people goes up. 

The mink incident is especially troubling. As Tufecki writes: “When the coronavirus infected Danish mink farms in 2020 and the minks generated new variants that then infected humans…the outbreaks were uncontrollable. If different strains of flu have infected the same person simultaneously, the strains can swap gene segments and give rise to new, more transmissible ones. If a mink farmworker with the flu also gets infected by H5N1, that may be all it takes to ignite a pandemic.” Others agree: “This outbreak signals the very real potential for the emergence of mammal-to-mammal transmission,” according to Michelle Wille, a University of Sydney researcher. Adds Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist, “This is an infection that has epidemic and pandemic potential. I don’t know if people recognize how big a deal this is.”

H5N1 is just one of many pathogens that could pose a serious problem. Nipah virus, Zika, Mers, swine flu, yellow fever, Marburg virus and Ebola are just a few of the diseases that scientists have identified as capable of evolving and spreading around the world. 

Given the probabilities and the damage such diseases can cause, are we ready?  A lot of people don’t think so. As the Atlantic wrote just six months ago: “.. many public-health experts, historians, and legal scholars worry that the U.S. is lapsing into neglect, that the temporary wave of investments isn’t being channeled into the right areas, and that COVID-19 might actually leave the U.S. weaker against whatever emerges next.” The article goes on to describe various criticisms of the investments that the US is making in disease monitoring and prevention. 

Socially, we also seem to be unprepared for the next pandemic. More than 2 years after the first vaccines were available, less than 70% of the US is fully vaccinated. Less than half of Americans wear masks even occasionally while in public, including me, by the way. And opposition to both vaccination and mask wearing mandates is as high as 30% in some of the polls we’ve seen. It’s probably actually higher than that. 

As a public safety or emergency management professional, your job is to prepare for events that can harm the public. The point of this article is just to remind you that one of those events – a massive disease outbreak – will be a constant and potentially imminent threat for many, many years to come. 

One step in preparing is having a mass emergency notification system.  If your community doesn’t have one or isn’t happy with the one it has, it’s time to check out Hyper-Reach. You can book an online demo here. 

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911, Smartphones and False Alerts

Although Spring is here, we’re still interested in some recent articles we saw about skiing, Apple devices and 911.  

Apple has a feature that automatically calls 911 when some devices detect that a user is in trouble, for example, in a fall or a crash. The device will attempt to alert the user, ask if they are OK, and then call emergency services (aka 911) if the user doesn’t respond. 

While this feature seems potentially useful, it was causing havoc in some ski areas this winter. Apple 14 phones were calling the 911 centers in places like Summit County, Grand County and Vail, CO from the ski slopes in those areas. 

When people ski, they fall, even if the falls aren’t bad. And ski slopes have professional ski patrols on the scene. So even though there was no need for 911 to respond, the calls were coming in at a rate of 20 or more per day and taking up valuable resources. 

While this problem will undoubtedly get fixed, or at least greatly minimized, this news got us thinking about automated devices generally and their connection to 911 and emergency responders. 

There are tens – maybe hundreds – of millions of devices that are, or could be, programmed to automatically call 911 or other emergency responders. These include smartphones, watches, smart speakers, security monitoring systems, fire detection, automobiles, and wearable health monitors. The GPS device on my bike has a crash detection feature that can notify my wife in the case of a bad fall. And there are emerging categories of “smart” clothing that can monitor your heart rate and other vital signs, as well as smart glasses, rings, and more. 

At an institutional level, there are now devices meant to automatically detect the sound of gun fire, explosive vapors, flooding and other hazards. This is in addition to traditional fire and burglary alarms. 

And beyond completely automated systems, there are an increasing number of devices that make it easy to report a hazard, including so-called “panic button” apps on smartphones, other wearable panic buttons, smart speakers, etc. Most Android and iOS phones come with a built-in SOS feature to call 911 and send messages to emergency contacts, in addition to any number of specialized apps available for the purpose.

While we think the increased availability of monitoring and emergency calling systems has great potential, it also comes with a lot of issues that must be dealt with, including: 

– False alarms. This is already a problem across the US. An Arizona State University paper said 20 years ago that “phantom” wireless calls to 911 were between 25-70% of all 911 calls in some jurisdictions and a more recent estimate we found claimed that 90% of all calls to 911 were false alarms. 

– Privacy. For these devices to be effective – at least the mobile ones – they need to track the location of the user. Which raises all kinds of new privacy and security concerns, since calling emergency services means letting the government know where you are.

– Hacking. Because there are many different companies that are offering emergency calling capabilities, there are a variety of security standards that are, or aren’t being used. That could open the door to potential hackers to figure out a way to send a crippling number of calls to emergency responders. 

It may be that none of these problems are insurmountable. But the technology is evolving rapidly, so there are bound to be mistakes and possibly great disruptions along the way to figuring it all out. 

In the meantime, we think the best posture is to be aware, adopt those technologies that seem promising, and offer useful guidance to your residents, who are going to adopt some, many or all of these technologies and might very well appreciate your helpful advice. With that in mind, we’ve drafted a guide that you can freely take and adapt to your own uses with your residents.