Best Practices in Using Your Web-Registration Form for Emergency Alerts

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our emergency alert sign up form as easy-to-use and effective as it can be. That’s because it’s getting to the point where “sign ups” are going to be the only way to reach the public (unless you’re sending an IPAWS message, but that’s a future article.) 

We put “sign ups” in quotation marks because Hyper-Reach offers much more than a web form to get the public signed up. These days, we’re also using SMS, browser push notification, app downloads and smart speakers (Alexa) to reach the public, and each one of those has its own method for getting people “signed up.”  And we go beyond a web form, with interactive voice response, paper forms and more.  Today, let’s just focus on the web form. 

Every emergency notification provider offers their own form, but some of those forms need some serious work. A few don’t render well on a smartphone, which is tragic, since about 70% of internet access is on mobile devices. Some of them require creating a separate account – and sometimes before you even get their contact information. Most of them require a separate username and password and some won’t work unless the citizen verifies their registration with another step, like clicking a link in an email. And a few even require multiple forms (one vendor actually makes you go through four separate forms to complete the process.)

If your vendor makes the mistakes above, we suggest telling them to change. Your objective should be to make signing up as easy and error-free as possible and to treat other issues as secondary. (Why worry about bogus signups when you can barely get 5% of your residents to register?)

Here are some of the ways we simplify our form.  (1) keep it to one page; (2) minimize the questions; (3) adapt well on a smartphone; (4) no password required – either use Facebook, Twitter or Google to login or don’t even require an account; and (5) no confirmation required to finish the process.  

Regardless of which signup form your vendor uses, here are 5 ways to make it more effective:

  1. Put it on your community homepage. We know lots of folks who put the link to their form on their department webpage (e.g. EMA, sheriff or 911.)  While it’s great to have it there, your page doesn’t get nearly the traffic the county or city homepage does. 
  2. Get a URL shortener. Most of the links provided by alert system vendors are 30-40 characters long and just a string of unreadable letters and numbers. No one’s going to type that in. But with a service like bit.ly or tinyURL you can create a readable link – for free – that people might actually find. 
  3. Use a QR code. For flyers, postcards, or any other printed material, use a QR code – in addition to your shortened URL – to make it easy for citizens to get to your form. They can scan the code or type in the shortened URL and get onto your form in seconds. 
  4. Put it on social media. You should post your signup link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and – especially – Nextdoor. If you don’t have a Public Agencies account for Nextdoor, you should probably get one. With some social media (Facebook), you can pin the post with the signup form at the top of your newsfeed. With others, plan on posting it regularly. (With Hyper-Reach, you can create a recurring message to post once a week, month, etc.)  And if your community has multiple Facebook, Twitter, etc. accounts, don’t leave any of them out. Don’t just use your department’s social media accounts if you can get help from others. 
  5. Send it as an email blast to city/county employees. See if your human resources or IT department is willing to send the link out to all of the community’s employees. If they are, here’s an email template you can use as the basis for the email you send. 

We’ve got lots of ways to help you get more people signed up and we’re finally putting those together in a marketing guide. Once that’s done, we’ll send it to you for free – even if you’re using a different system from Hyper-Reach.

Landlines Continue to Shrink: What’s Your Plan?

Landline phones keep losing their relevance in the United States. You know this, of course, but we like to keep track of the trend.  

The federal government does a massive study twice a year that includes this issue. The latest available data shows that in 2019 about 60% or 151 million people live in “wireless only” households.  There’s been a 12% drop in landline phones for the past five years (51.6% in 2014 vs. 39.7% in 2019). At that rate it will only take about 16 years for landline phones to be a technological relic. 

https://www.statista.com/chart/2072/landline-phones-in-the-united-states/

Younger people are especially likely to be “wireless only”. In 2019 four in five adults aged 25-34 were wireless-only while only about a third of those 65 and over were.

The trend away from landline phones makes 911 listings less and less relevant. And we’re sure the trend will only accelerate. Which is why it’s so important to get people to sign up for emergency alerts. Unfortunately, the average sign-up rate across the country is less than 10%. 

That’s why Hyper-Reach is continuously developing new ways of getting people signed up. And because younger people are more likely to use technology, we’ve focused on ways to enroll people while adapting to the preferences of different age groups. With Hyper-Reach, your citizens can sign up for alerts by:

  • Texting a message;
  • Making a phone call and speaking (works well for older people);
  • Clicking once on their browser. Just get folks to visit your website. Put the one-click process on any website you control, and offer citizens a method that is up to 700% more effective than a standard form;
  • Saying “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach”. More than 60 million households have Alexa units, more than have landlines.  So we’ve created a smart speaker “skill” to deliver alerts.  
  • Filling out a web form. And we’ve simplified and optimized our form to get the highest sign up rates. (see the article below for more detail.)

In addition, we’ll help you get your citizens signed up, with marketing assistance: press releases, email templates, social media ads, handouts, and more. Which is why we’ve got customers with up to 30% of their citizens signed up for alerts.  

To find out all the ways we can help you reach your community, request our demo now.

Using Your Emergency Alert System to Manage Vaccine Distribution

The vaccines are coming!

You already know this, of course, and chances are you’ve been involved with planning the first wave of distribution and how to get the word out on future vaccine distribution in your community.  And hopefully, you’ve used, or are planning to use your Hyper-Reach or other mass notification system to help keep the public and other key constituencies aware of expectations and plans in your area. 

There’s a lot of communicating to do. Mass notification can help you: (a) set folks’ expectations for when vaccines will be available to which groups, (b) point them to sources such as vaccinefinder and the CDC, (c) remind people to get their second dose, when applicable, (d) counter misinformation, (e) tell people where mobile vaccine centers are located on which days, and (f) remind them to report side effects.

Here are some ideas you may not have thought of:

  1. Use the vaccine situation to help build community sign ups.  

As the adage goes: “never let a crisis go to waste.” If you’re going to send alerts regarding ANY aspect of vaccine distribution, let your citizens know to sign up for the updates you can provide. We’ve drafted a press release you can adapt to your own situation here.  Feel free to change it and use it as you see fit. In addition to sending it to your local news media, you can post it to Facebook and other social media, use it as an email blast (even using the Hyper-Reach system), or put it in your blog, if you have one.  We’ve included variations on the press release to help you do that too. 

2. Create special interest groups and lists. 

One of the great features of Hyper-Reach is the ability to create special purpose lists and make it easy for people to sign up for them.  We actually do that in two ways:

a) Text messaging. By creating a special code, such as “CovidVaccine” and using it with a text number, you can let citizens sign up for a list just by texting the code to the number. To illustrate, we’ve created another press release and media post you can use to promote this service here.

b) Dynamic lists. Because Hyper-Reach supports dynamic lists with customizable attributes (also known as fields), you can create special purpose dynamic lists that give you the information you need to know who within the list to send messages to when the time is right. 

3. Let people know how it’s going.

One powerful way to get others to do what you want them to is to show them that others like them are doing the same thing. You can start by letting folks know how many people in your county or city have gotten immunized.  If you have specific populations you want to address (black or hispanic people, for example), make a point of highlighting others who belong to those populations who are getting shots. 

4. Make it sound a little challenging. 

As counterintuitive as it might seem, the perception of inconvenience can improve your results, because people perceive your demand as higher if they have to work harder to get what you’re offering. If you’ve ever seen an ad on TV that says “if operators are busy, please try again,” that’s the reason why. And with the vaccine in limited supply for many months, this won’t be hard to do. 

Got any other ideas? This is a team effort, and we’ll publish any great ideas we find to share them as broadly as possible. So if you’ve got suggestions about how your notification system can help in this important effort, we’d love to help get the word out. Just drop a line to jveilleux@ashergroup.com.

Sending IPAWS Messages Comes to Your Mobile Device

We talk a lot about IPAWS because we believe it’s a critically important tool for reaching the public. And we’re committed to making it easy for you to use IPAWS to its fullest extent. 

So we’re announcing our newest enhancement: the ability to send IPAWS messages from your iOS mobile devices.  That means you can now send IPAWS messages from almost any smartphone, tablet, etc. (We were already providing IPAWS access on Android devices.)

We’re one of the very few emergency alert providers to make IPAWS available from a mobile device. If you’ve sent an IPAWS message, you can understand why.  FEMA’s requirements mean there are potentially a lot of menu options to choose from, and that’s hard to fit on a smartphone screen. But because we focus so much on making it easy to use Hyper-Reach, we’ve worked hard here as well – so you don’t have to.  

So check out the new IPAWS functionality on the Hyper-Reach Launch app. You can get the app on either the Apple or Android app stores. You will need a Hyper-Reach account, so if you don’t have one and want to see how our IPAWS feature works, contact us here.

Who’s Using IPAWS – And Who Could Be and Isn’t

IPAWS (FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert & Warning System) is a powerful and often critical tool in notifying the public during man-made or natural disasters. Which is why more than 1500 jurisdictions and agencies across the US have become authorized by FEMA to send IPAWS messages.

As of August 2020 (the latest data available from FEMA), every state – plus the District of Columbia, and the Virgin Islands have at least one authorized agency; Colorado and Iowa have the most with 3-4. More than 1100 counties have an authorized agency, as do almost 200 cities, plus tribal governments, councils of government and various regional authorities. There are even authorized authorities among universities, military bases and national parks. As a percentage of the relevant jurisdictions, about 38% of US counties can use IPAWS but only 1% of municipalities are authorized.

But there are still a lot of jurisdictions that don’t have IPAWS:

  • 14 states have an authorized agency at the county level among at least half of their counties. That means that 36 states have less than half their counties using IPAWS.
  • There are 17 states where less than a quarter of county authorities are approved to use IPAWS.
  • Municipal use of IPAWS is growing but is still quite small. There are now 6 states (NH, NV, CA, MA, NM and VA) with 5%+ of municipalities authorized for IPAWS, compared to just 2 three years ago. But that obviously means that the vast majority of cities and towns are not using this tool.

You can check all data here.

Top 10 states with the highest local IPAWS certification rate (county and municipal levels)

State County Alerting Authorities Total Counties % Authorized State Municipal Alerting Authorities Total Municipalities % Authorized
WY 23 23 100% NH 3 13 23.1%
FL 62 67 93% NV 3 19 15.8%
AZ 13 15 87% CA 55 478 11.5%
CA 49 58 84% MA 4 45 8.9%
MN 70 87 80% VA 15 229 6.6%
WV 44 55 80% NM 6 101 5.9%
NY 45 62 73% AZ 3 90 3.3%
MD 16 23 70% UT 4 242 1.7%
PA 45 67 67% TX 19 1,209 1.6%
IA 64 99 65% MT 2 129 1.6%

(data current as of Aug.24, 2020)

There are many potential reasons for the disparate levels of IPAWS authorization:

  • Many cities piggy-back on their county’s Emergency Notification System so they rely on the county to send emergency alerts.
  • Lack of funds. Some local governments don’t have the money to spend, a problem that will be worse over the next few years.
  • Some states (e.g., NH, DE, and CT) use their state notification system for all or most local jurisdictions.
  • Some jurisdictions rely on other methods of communication such as sirens, radio/TV alerts and social media.

But adding IPAWS to your emergency communication toolkit can provide real value. For example, IPAWS can send messages to almost all mobile phones, without any need for registration. And IPAWS can also provide access to other message delivery mechanisms, such as the Emergency Alert System, digital signage, and new outlets, including city kiosks, sirens, critical event management and an accessible alerting app.
In addition, FEMA is constantly updating IPAWS. The latest updates render IPAWS an even more sophisticated communication tool:

  1. IPAWS messages now contain up to 360 characters.
  2. You can include hyper-links. This means you can send a bulletin with lots of information to the public.
  3. IPAWS now supports alerts in Spanish.
  4. The geographic accuracy of IPAWS alerts has also greatly improved.

So, while there are lots of agencies using IPAWS, there’s also a lot of room for improvement. With almost 2,000 counties and thousands of towns and cities still not using this tool, we want to help make it easier.

And here’s our Halloween Treat for you – Hyper-Reach is offering (for a limited time) IPAWS for free to new customers. If you’re not already an authorized Alerting Authority and want more information, you can reach us at 877-912-7437 ext. 3, or fill out the form here.

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): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-PUKlkxKJFax7HUTgHXBGazOXztu-MNIFmXYRVkKC90/edit?usp=sharing

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.

Hyper-Reach Announces AlertSmart to Deliver Emergency Messages over Smart Speakers.

We’re excited to let you know about our newest feature, called AlertSmart™. AlertSmart gives you the ability to deliver emergency messages over Amazon Alexa devices and other Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

AlertSmart is the first and only service that lets local agencies send messages to Alexa-enabled devices. And it’s now available to you – at no added charge – when you use Hyper-Reach as your mass notification system. 

And that’s big news – because there are now more Amazon Alexa devices than home landlines. And because the people who buy smart speakers are younger and more tech-savvy, they’re also the kind of people who are least likely to have a home landline. So delivering messages to Alexa devices will fill a big gap in getting messages to the public. 

When you send out a message to an area and include the Alexa delivery option, all devices within the area you selected get notified. Most devices will flash a yellow light and play a notification tone when they get the alert. Your citizen then tells the device, “Alexa, open Hyper-Reach” (similar phrases will also work) and the unit plays the message. 

We’ve included a press release we sent out this week announcing AlertSmart, but to really appreciate the power of this new tool, we’d love to show it to you in action. So give us a call at 877-2-Notify (877-266-8439), send us a note at hr_info@hyper-reach.com or click the button below. We’ll get back to you ASAP. 

It’s Hurricane Season: Some Message Templates You Can Use

Hurricane season will soon be upon us. Here are some templates you can use as a starting point for the message you want to send. 

When sending emergency alerts, remember to follow these basic guidelines:

  • Describe the threat, its location and timing;
  • Tell people what you want them to do and when;
  • When possible, provide an expected time interval you expect the threat to last.

{storm name} is forecast to impact {community name} on {date}. Make arrangements now to prepare for storm damage, power outages, evacuation routes, etc. See {web page} for guidance.
 
{community name} is in the path of {storm name}. Be alert for emergency messages regarding evacuations, shelter locations and other information. For more go to {web page}.
 
Arrival of {storm name} to {community name} is expected by {storm date time}. Evacuation has been ordered for all residents, no later than {evac date time}. For more go to {web page}.
 
Arrival of {storm name} is expected by {storm date time}. Evacuation order is in effect. If you require assistance to evacuate, call {phone number] immediately. Or go to {web page}.
 
Arrival of {storm name} to {Community name} is imminent. Shelter-in-place is now in effect for all residents who have not evacuated. If needed you can find shelter locations at {web page}.
 
For the latest updates on {storm name}, go to: {web page}.
 
Recovery assistance is available for property damaged from {storm name}. Go to {web page} or call {phone number} for more information.