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.

IPAWS Comes to the Hyper-Reach Mobile App

We’ve gotten rave reviews on Hyper-Reach Launch™, our mobile smartphone app for creating and sending emergency alerts. Customers love how easy and fast it is to use, especially when sending messages from the field. Because it’s a native app, it’s very responsive, even when network connections aren’t perfect. 

The app lets you type text messages, record voice messages – or use speech-to-text, and select your geographic area, right on your phone or tablet. It’s so capable and easy to use, some customers prefer to use it, even when they’re in the office. 

Now we’ve made it even better by adding the ability to send IPAWS messages from the app. This means you can send IPAWS messages right from a mobile device. And because our IPAWS software is completely up-to-date with the latest FEMA requirements, you can send longer messages, messages in Spanish, include hyper-links in your messages and more. 

So check out the newest version of Hyper-Reach Launch today.

Too Many Calls? Here’s a Way to Get Them Under Control

The intense public interest and rapidly changing landscape of COVID-19 issues are forcing many communities to work hard to educate the public and correct misinformation. 

But every alert, press release or other news has the potential to generate calls from the public – asking for clarification, more detail, etc. And that means at least two problems for many communities: 

  1. Limited phone capacity. Most counties and cities do not have the telephone line capacity to handle so many inbound calls being generated. (Some states are reporting hundreds of thousands of calls per day.)
  2. Limited staff. Hand-in-hand with the lack of telephone lines is the lack of people to answer the phone.

Fortunately, there’s an easy answer that can handle large volumes of calls cost-effectively: it’s a pre-recorded community hotline, such as the Hyper-Reach Hotline™. 

The Hyper-Reach Hotline is available 24 hours/day, 7 days a week to provide residents with current information about important community issues, such as those involving COVID-19.  Agencies can record and update messages that residents can access wherever they want, as well as providing easy access to additional resources as needed (for example, forwarding the caller to public health or other agencies. 

As one public health official told ABC News, “Hotlines create greater ‘equity of information,’ Not everybody has access to the internet. Whether they’re low income or seniors or rural populations that may not have internet they do have access to the phone.”

Messages on the Hyper-Reach Hotline can be updated from any telephone, enabling agencies to keep the information fresh and respond to new questions.

16 Messages You Can Use As The COVID-19 Crisis Develops

The 16 Messages You May Want To Send As The COVID-19 Crisis Develops

Although we call them “emergency alerts” the reality is that many communities use their alert services to provide useful information to the public. We encourage that, because the more useful information you send citizens, the more they will value the service and the more likely they are to either sign-up or keep their contact information up to date. 

As more and more states open up or loosen restrictions, there’s a lot of potential for confusion, and misinformation and a lot of opportunity to inform, clarify, remind and reinforce important information and updates to your residents. 

Here are 16 different types of messages you may want to send, although each one is a category with lots of potential actual messages you might use.  Don’t forget that with Hyper-Reach template capability, you can pre-format some of these alerts to make it easy to create clear, concise messages when you need them:

  1. Service interruptions and resumption: Garbage, licenses, deeds, taxes, etc. are all being affected by the pandemic and will continue to be affected. In addition to reopening offices, it’s also possible that an outbreak in one of your departments could also interrupt services.
  1. Closings and reopenings: recreation areas, public buildings, etc. Parks, senior centers, office buildings and more may open and close as conditions change. The same goes for private buildings used by the public, such as churches, YMCA and Boys/Girls Club, etc.
  1. Tax and billing extensions and reminders. Many communities have followed the lead of the Federal Government in postponing tax filings and payments. And with the economy so damaged, there’s also an urgent need to collect as much as and as fast as possible when taxes are due. Reminding folks is always a good idea.
  1. Planning updates, status updates and expectation setting. Agencies and officials in your community may want to explain what impacts they see coming from the pandemic and to update that information from time to time. One letter we saw from a mayor wanted to make it clear to citizens that most of the rules in their area were controlled by the state and Federal Government, so would not take up time expecting the city government to change those. 
  1. Meeting announcements. A lot of communities are having extra meetings for planning purposes and many of these are open to the public. Announcing the schedule and location are useful for this effort. 
  1. Soliciting input. Beyond just telling folks what’s going on, many communities are trying to solicit ideas and get buy-in from their residents. 
  1. Recommendations for being prepared. You may already have a list of emergency preparations for citizens to use in case of power outages, floods, fires, etc. Have you suggested ways they can prepare for COVID-19? What should they know if someone gets sick, for example, or if others in their area get sick? Putting together a list can be helpful and sending an alert can point them to that resource. 
  2. Scam warnings. Any disaster creates opportunities for scammers who are trying to defraud people of their money, identities, etc. Already, there have been news alerts about fraudsters trying to intercept the $1200 stimulus checks. More potential frauds are also expected. Alerting your citizens and giving them resources to sort  out the good from the bad can be helpful. 
  1. Recruiting volunteers for community help. As the pandemic spreads and the economy continues to suffer, volunteer help can be incredibly helpful. People are going to be needed to help at food banks, provide transportation, make PPE and much more. Alerts can help you remind and encourage people to pitch in. 
  1. Announcing testing locations. Knowing where and when testing is available will continue to be of high interest for many months. Most estimates are that less than 6% of the US population has been infected, and some areas have been barely touched. As the disease spreads, people are going to want to know how they can get tested. 
  1. Telling people where they can get help – medical, economic, etc. As conditions change, many of your citizens may need help, whether that’s medical help or trying to get a job or filing for assistance. Telling your residents where they can find that help – especially if locations, hours etc. are changing – will be appreciated. 
  1. Reminders and clarifications about what restrictions have been lifted, where they haven’t, and where they’ve been re-imposed. There is so much opportunity for forgetting, confusion and misinformation around this area. If neighboring jurisdictions are opening up, for example, and your city, county or state is not. Or if restrictions are reimposed after being lifted. Sending alerts on these topics can help keep your citizens current. 
  1. Announcing/clarifying/reminding about any protective requirements (e.g. masks.) Some communities are requiring cloth face masks while others aren’t. That may change over time, with additional, fewer or even more specific requirements. While most communities are likely to rely on voluntary compliance, alert messages can help folks keep track to the rules and remind them to comply. 
  1. Encouraging people to download software or otherwise enable contact tracing. Most experts say that contact tracing is going to be a key part of keeping the disease in check. You may want to encourage citizens to download or enable contact tracing software, once it becomes available. And because many citizens will be concerned about their privacy, you may want to help allay their concerns (once you’re convinced yourself, of course, that the software is safe.) Software won’t be the only tool used for contact tracing and you may want to encourage residents to cooperate when they get an inquiry from a contact tracer, or tell them how they can distinguish authorized tracers from potential fraudsters. 
  2. Providing updated voting information: polling places, mail-in ballots, etc. The COVID-19 pandemic will almost certainly be with us during the next election season. Giving people the resources they need to vote – how and when to get a mail-in ballot for example, or how to vote safely in person, will be very important this fall. 
  3. Encouraging people to get out – helping them feel safe. Last and certainly not least, once we’re through this disaster, it will be important to make your residents feel safe again and help them get back to something like normal life. That’s likely to be in phases and to require repeated messages in every channel you can think of. Using alert messages to point people to the resources they need to regain their lives can be one part of an overall strategy for helping your community get back on its feet.

Using IPAWS for Mass Notification

While IPAWS has been available for years now, there are still thousands of jurisdictions that are not Alerting Authorities. And given the power of IPAWS Wireless Emergency Alerts, we think it’s worth reviewing the reasons to become an authorized Alerting Authority and why getting the software needed to send IPAWS messages is so useful. 

  1. IPAWS requires no registration – anyone in a target area can receive the message on their phone.
  2. IPAWS messages can now contain 360 characters as well as hyper-links. So you can send a bulletin with lots of information to the public.
  3. Many COVID-19 situations qualify for WEA messages. The rules for sending a message via WEA are simple: an imminent and likely loss of life or property. Since the coronavirus is highly contagious and has a known estimated mortality rate, we think any significant exposure to the general public fits this definition.
  4. To support FEMA’s push to get more qualified governmental agencies to participate, we’re 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

Use Event Notification for Group Meetings

We’ve been talking about our new Event Notification service for a while now.  It’s very simple – which is how we want it: we create a code you can use for visitors, attendees, etc. to join a special purpose list, which they do by texting that code to our registration number. They’re automatically added to the list, so when you send a message, everyone who’s registered gets the text message. 

The original idea was to send messages before and during an event, such as a public festival, concert, fishing tournament, etc. Now, with the coronavirus, there’s another important and valuable use for this service.

Because the incubation period for COVID-19 averages 5 days and can be as long as 14 days, it’s possible that attendees may develop symptoms only AFTER they have attended an event. So getting all participants to register for alerts as a means of reaching them after the event is potentially just as important as communicating with them before and during the event. 

For a fuller description of communication strategies for mass gatherings, we recommend the CDC’s guidance and the WHO paper that can be found here.

Promote Registration for Emergency Notification

One of the lessons we’ve learned over our many years of providing emergency alert services is that crises are very effective in getting the public to sign up for emergency alerts. Telling your residents that you’ll be using your emergency alert service – and following through – to update them about threats and advice about COVID-19 motivates folks to register for alerts. That serves both the purpose of being more effective in informing them about COVID-19, and also for future purposes. Remember to include a link to your sign-up page on every press release and news story you put out.

If your department or agency isn’t the right one for public health communications but you want to offer the use of Hyper-Reach to the right agency, please let us know. Because of the urgency of this situation, we’ll work with you to enable anyone in your community to use Hyper-Reach to enhance their communications. 

And providing that information is important. In addition to the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control, this World Health Organization paper is very useful in developing a communication strategy for the COVID-19 situation.

Changes to IPAWS Coming Soon.

There are a number of changes to IPAWS that have been in the works for years now and are finally close to being released by FEMA. These include: 

  • Increasing the maximum character count from 90 to 360.
  • Adding support for Spanish language WEA.
  • Adding two new alert categories:
  1. Public Safety Message – for less severe situations.
  2. WEA Test Message – supports state and local WEA testing.
  • Geo-targeting improvements to reach 100% of an area with no more than 1/10th of a mile overshoot.
  • Messages stay on the receiving device for 24 hours unless deleted by the user. 

These changes were supposed to go into effect at the end of November, but have been delayed by FEMA. While we don’t yet know the “go live” date, we’re hoping it’s a matter of weeks, rather than months.

Here are a few points to keep in mind about these changes: 

  • Every aspect of IPAWS WEA messaging is potentially affected by each of the components of the system. These include: 
  1. The IPAWS origination software. If you’re using Hyper-Reach, you can be assured that we’re on top of IPAWS requirements and are either supporting all new changes or will in very short order. After all, we’re one of the leading proponents of IPAWS among ENS providers: we were one of the first to implement IPAWS and have the highest rate of IPAWS adoption among our customers compared with other major ENS providers.
  2. The IPAWS network, as provided by FEMA. This is where the changes we’re expecting are in process.
  3. The mobile carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, etc.
  4. Individual mobile devices. 
  • The different parts of the system affect these changes in different ways.  For example: 
  1. The geo-targeting improvements depend heavily on the carrier’s ability to support them AND the capabilities of individual mobile devices. As a result, the “1/10th of a mile overshoot” change will only be effective on mobile devices that can filter out messages based on their location information. Devices that don’t have the ability to filter or which don’t have location information will receive the message if they’re in the broadcast area of a cell tower in the polygon selected for message delivery.
  2. The character count expansion to 360 depends on the origination software, the carrier’s ability to deliver 360 characters and the device’s ability to display that character length. We’ve seen reports that some carriers won’t be able to support 360 characters right away. 
  3. The testing components mean that FEMA may start requiring monthly testing once those components are available.  Currently, FCC rules require getting a limited waiver for end-to-end testing and that requirement will go away once the full testing components are available. 

Although these changes have taken a long time to come – the FCC issued rules for some of them more than three years ago – they will provide significant improvements in the usefulness and effectiveness of IPAWS. We’re looking forward to them and are committed to continuing to improve your experience in using this valuable service.

Usage Tip: Another Reason to Use Templates (and How to Use Them When You Do)

If you’re already a Hyper-Reach customer, you’re probably using our template feature. Templates make it easy to standardize messages by letting you create stock messages where you just fill in the blanks. 

There are many great reasons to use templates. They improve the quality and consistency of messages and they can help you get a message written quickly. And you can use templates to ensure that you follow best practices, such as including all critical information.

You can also use templates to make sure that your messages are a reasonable length. While Hyper-Reach can deliver longer messages than you would normally use, in most circumstances, shorter is better, all other things being equal.

To make it easy for you to design templates that work for you, we’ve put together a little Google sheet that you can find here. You can use it to design your template and also test it with real-world examples of the kinds of messages you would want to send. 

We hope this spreadsheet is helpful. If you want us to make any changes, just drop us a line at jveilleux@ashergroup.com. We’ll be glad to modify the sheet to help you.

Landslide Detection and Emergency Alerts.

Recently, we came across this article about detecting landslides in India, which kill more than 900 people annually. It got us thinking that something similar might work in the US. The article describes a way to modify a smartphone using its accelerometer to monitor for movements in the soil – for less than $300. Early indications are that it works: in one case, by warning officials to close a road that was later washed out.

Landslides are less common and less deadly in the US, killing about 25 people per year on average.

But the danger from US landslides is growing. Because of development and climate change, the conditions that cause landslides are getting worse, including rerouting of surface water runoff, severe rainfalls, and wildfires that destroy tree cover. As a result, experts are predicting that that landslides will become more common and more damaging. Here in the US, landslides are more dispersed – occurring in all 50 states – which makes it more difficult to focus resources on the areas of greatest risk.  

Fortunately, artificial intelligence and other techniques are being developed to help predict the areas most likely to develop landslides. The US Geological Survey has released a new database which identifies many areas with higher projected landslide risk. And there are new tools in development. One research project in Central America has developed a model to identify areas most at risk, with promising initial results. Closer to home, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University are working on machine learning algorithms with the express purpose of identifying high-risk areas in Pennsylvania for infrastructure investment. 

It’s not difficult to imagine a system of early warning sensors like the ones in India, dispersed in high risk areas around the US, which could then send automated alerts in a method similar to the ones sent by the National Weather Service. For example, there’s a new system developed for earthquake alerts in California. But earthquakes kill less than a third as many Americans as landslides do – less than 8 people per year over the last century. So when you hear about a new system for sending landslide danger alerts, remember that you first heard about it here.