Hyper-Reach Improvements in 2023

We were busy last year, making the Hyper-Reach service you love even better. 

There were over 20 significant changes to the Hyper-Reach system, including improvements that were visible to everyone, some that were visible to only some customers and others that were just about internal improvements in how we do things. Here are just some of the highlights: 

  • Better, faster weather alerts.  As one of the first mass notification systems to offer automated weather alerts, Hyper-Reach is proud of the service we’ve offered to public safety agencies.  And unlike some of our competitors, our automated weather alerts have always been included in our basic package, without additional fees. 

Now those weather alerts are much – up to 20X times – faster than they were just a few months ago. That’s because we’ve switched to the NWS’ XMPP protocol, the fastest available method for monitoring and getting alerts from the NWS. 

  • Full Nextdoor Integration. If you’re not using the Nextdoor social media platform to reach your residents, you’re missing out on an important way to get your message to more people, more effectively. That’s because Nextdoor is a unique social media platform that is focused on where people live and the neighborhoods they live in. When you send a message using Nextdoor, you’re not just reaching people who follow you; everyone in your selected area gets the message. And Nextdoor offers its platform to government agencies for free.

With the Hyper-Reach Nextdoor integration, you can easily add Nextdoor to your alerts, just as you would any other social media platform, Alexa smart speakers or other services we add to your Hyper-Reach account. If you want to know more, send an email to support@hyper-reach.com and tell us you’re looking for Nextdoor integration. 

  • Custom Role support. Need to set up users who have some, but not all, of our standard user permissions?  We’ve been expanding our support for Custom Roles.  While we’re not finished, we now support even greater detail in defining a custom role. 
  • UKG Pro integration. If your county or city uses UKG (aka Kronos or Ultimate Software) for its human resources system, you’ll be interested in this. With our UKG integration, we can turn your human resources database into a contact database that’s continuously updated.  We can even configure the integration to capture important information about your staff, such as department, position, location, etc. to make it easy to send messages to people based on those key data elements. 
  • Non-Roman language support. Do you have residents who use Arabic, Greek, Chinese or other languages that don’t use the Roman alphabet?  Hyper-Reach can now support almost any language on earth.  
  • Better security, greater reliability, faster performance and much more. Maybe you’ve noticed or maybe you haven’t, but we’ve made our services behind the scenes even better. One example: we can now send many times more SMS messages per hour than we did in 2022.  So our highly secure, highly reliable and very fast notification system is even more secure, more reliable and much faster. And we’ve got further enhancements planned for 2024.  

So if you loved your Hyper-Reach service in 2022 – and many of you have told us that you did – you’ll love us even more in 2024.  Which is why Hyper-Reach is one of the fastest-growing emergency notification systems in the US.

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Feature of the Month: Attribute Import

We didn’t have room to include this in our 2023 list of improvements, but the attribute import feature is almost brand new.  And we think many of you will find it very useful. 

As you probably know, Hyper-Reach supports unlimited custom attributes that you can add to your contact database. That means you can identify the staff, volunteers, or other folks you need to message based on their skills, seniority, department, location, languages they speak, or pretty much anything you need to.  And those attributes can be all kinds of different kinds of information: text, numbers, dropdown values, or yes/no values.

If you have a lot of data, and especially if it changes frequently, the question then arises: how to get the data into Hyper-Reach and keep it current?  Enter Attribute Import. 

With attribute import, you can import any of your custom attributes from a CSV or spreadsheet file easily.  Just name the columns or fields in your spreadsheet to match the custom attributes and follow our standard structure and the data can be imported just like that. And it works whether you’re importing 10, 100, or 1,000 records. 

BTW, if your agency, county, or city uses UKG Pro human resources software, you can also add data with custom attributes from your employee database.  

So if you have complex staff contact needs, find out about attribute import.  And if you need help, just let us know by dropping a line to support@hyper-reach.com.  We’re always glad to help.

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Hyper-Reach Helps in Car Thefts

The City of Germantown, TN is a relatively new Hyper-Reach customer, sending out its first alert about a year ago.  Since then, the city – a suburb of Memphis – has sent about 180 alerts, including automated weather alerts.

About a month ago, the Germantown Police Department was helping the Tennessee Highway Patrol in a search for suspects who had stolen and crashed a car in town. As part of their efforts, they used Hyper-Reach to notify citizens in the area of the investigation and to avoid the area.  

About 1,000 contacts were selected for the notifications, 99% of which were delivered within 2 minutes of the alert being sent. 

In the end, four suspects were arrested.

This isn’t the first time the Germantown police have used Hyper-Reach to let residents know of police activity. In November, a search was on for a suspect in multiple car thefts in another part of town and a Hyper-Reach alert was sent to warn residents at that time. No one was arrested during that search.

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Mass Notification Systems for Spontaneous Volunteer Coordination

We found a really interesting topic in the “Emergency Management Issues” group on Facebook recently: how to manage spontaneous volunteers in an emergency.  So we did some research.

Spontaneous volunteers, aka unaffiliated volunteers, is a term that describes normal people motivated to help in a disaster. Some of them are local to the situation, and some from far away. Often, they just start getting to work, and frequently self-organize their activities. 

Examples abound throughout the world. Here are some in the US: 

  • After the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, approximately 650,000 people in the San Francisco area took part in emergency response activities;
  • Post-Hurricane Katrina (2005), the Red Cross attracted 50,000 spontaneous volunteers;
  • The 2015 Oklahoma City bombing motivated 9,600+ people to come help;
  • Immediately after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a fleet of commuter boats, tugboats, tour boats, private yachts and others evacuated hundreds of thousands of people from the disaster area in NYC, while 30–40,000 volunteers came to Ground Zero in the weeks following, and the American Red Cross got 22,000 offers of assistance.

After reading through scores of articles on the topic, we found many more examples from less publicized disasters throughout the US. 

The utilization and management of spontaneous volunteers appears to have been given short-shrift in the emergency management community.  One, admittedly old, study surveyed 50 cities and “found significant discrepancies between what is stated in the disaster plans of cities and what emergency managers claim is covered in their plans. Of the managers surveyed, only a handful mention spontaneous volunteers in their plans at all, and even fewer cities discuss them extensively.” 

More recently, a 2021 PhD dissertation at NC State says, “The current lack of research in this area of disaster management is problematic when one observes the increased frequency and intensity of disasters that are occurring within the United States…”

Regardless of the state of research or interest in the topic, it’s clear that spontaneous volunteers are going to show up in a disaster. And it seems like emergency managers should prepare for their arrival and have a plan for how to deal with them. And FEMA and others agree: “an essential element of every emergency management plan is the clear designation of responsibility for the on-site coordination of unaffiliated volunteers.”

Spontaneous volunteers should be planned for, both because they are a potentially valuable resource, and also because they can cause problems. Below, we list the kinds of things these volunteers can help with. But it’s also important to recognize their risks: they have no formal training in emergency response, their skills and interests and reliability are going to vary a lot, and they may put themselves in harm’s way and pose liability and other issues. 

An essential part of any plan for dealing with volunteers is communication. Which is where we come in. Hyper-Reach has a number of resources that can help you organize volunteers, as well as others, during an emergency.  Specifically, in this article, we’ll talk about (1) our information hotline, (2) EventReach, which lets people sign up for text messages for specific events, (3) Attribute Import for your contact database and (4) 2-way messaging with quota filling.

The Hyper-Reach Information Hotline. Our hotline service lets you easily record a message that anyone can access, 24/7, using just a telephone.  With the Information Hotline, you can record any number of useful messages for volunteers, including how to register as a volunteer, where to go to help with specific activities, what skillsets and jobs you’re looking to fill from potential volunteers, etc.  We can even set up multiple hotlines on short notice if you think you need more than one. 

EventReach, to sign up for topic-specific SMS messages. Let’s say, for example, that you want to create four teams of volunteers, tasked with specific goals and potentially different locations, etc.  With EventReach, you can create four (in this example) keywords that relate to each of those teams and have your volunteers subscribe to SMS messages specific to their team by texting the keyword to your EventReach registration number. Then, when you send a message to that specific group, everyone who’s registered through that keyword will get the SMS message. It’s a simple and easy way to send messages to just the key group of volunteers you need to reach. 

Attribute Import.  Hyper-Reach’s attribute import capability lets you import contact information with key attributes or fields that make it easy to identify and message the people you want. For example, let’s say you’re registering volunteers through a spreadsheet and collecting information about their skills, interests and availability. With attribute import, you can import those contacts directly into Hyper-Reach and use those attributes to identify and reach out to, for example, Spanish speakers who can be interpreters in a temporary shelter.  

2-Way Messaging with Quota Filling. Let’s say you’ve got a job that requires ten people tomorrow morning. You’ve built your contact list, and it’s got 50 people on it, but you only need ten and no more.  With the Hyper-Reach 2-Way message feature, you can send out a message asking for volunteers and set a quota for 10 positive responses. The calls and text messages go out automatically.  When you get 10 positive acknowledgments, the calls and text messages stop. And you’ve got your job filled without having people stepping all over each other, and without having to make dozens of calls yourself. 

There are probably even more ways that we can help you manage spontaneous volunteers. These are the ones we came up with after a few days of research. But there are other things we do – such as providing a phone-based check-in system – that could be helpful in managing volunteer resources. And, as the articles above point out, there is still a lot of research to be done in this field.  

If you’re interested in working with us to develop a comprehensive communication plan for spontaneous volunteers, we’d love to hear from you. Just drop a note to jveilleux@ashergroup.com.  

And if the services we offer today sound promising for this important task, sign up for a demo to see these features and more in action.

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Feature of the Month – Weather Alerts

You already know that Hyper-Reach provides automated weather alerts.  And unlike some of our competitors, we give you automated alerts without additional charge.

We’re featuring our weather alerts in this issue because those alerts are getting faster.  Much faster!

We’ve recently changed the way we get alerts from the National Weather Service. NWS offers multiple ways to send their alerts to services like Hyper-Reach. The protocols for these alerts are different and some of those protocols are faster than others.  

With the new protocols we’ve adopted, we’ll be sending weather alerts more than 10X faster.  And that’s important, because some types of weather alerts – such as tornado warnings – work much better the faster they are received. 

Integration with Nextdoor – What It Is and Why You Should Care

You may already know about the social media network called Nextdoor. Thousands of public agencies across the US are using it today to enhance their public communication in more than 7,000 areas in all 50 states. That’s because Nextdoor is different from other social media companies like Facebook and X: it’s locally-focused and designed for communication within a local community.  Another key difference – and the reason it’s great for public agencies – is that you can send messages to everyone on Nextdoor who lives in your jurisdiction, no following necessary! 

Nextdoor is organized around neighborhoods. When people sign up for Nextdoor, they provide their address, which is part of a neighborhood that Nextdoor assigns. Then, when people post information and communicate with each other, they’re doing it with their neighbors, rather than with someone who could be hundreds of miles away.  Sometimes communication goes beyond the neighborhood, but never further than the city or county in which they live. And because they’re communicating with neighbors, they’re posting about local topics, like finding a contractor or zoning issues, etc. 

And Nextdoor has reach.  One in three households are signed up with Nextdoor, which translates to more than 43 million homes and more than 100 million people. So it’s a great way to reach more of the public.  In fact, Nextdoor is so effective that some cities and counties have made it a key part of their communication strategy. 

As you may know, Hyper-Reach was the first emergency notification company to build any integration at all with Nextdoor. But because there was no API (application programming interface), the integration was limited. Now we are delighted to tell you that Hyper-Reach is the first and only mass notification system with a full Nextdoor integration. 

With Hyper-Reach, you’ll be able to include Nextdoor in all* of your mass notification campaigns with just a click of the button.  Which means that your alerts will go to more people and reach those people in more ways than you ever have before.  

There’s more that you need to know, and we’ll be glad to help you. Just click here for a demo, or, if you’re an existing customer, send an email to info@hyper-reach.com

Are Landline Phones Relevant Anymore?

We’ve been tracking the demise of the landline phone in the US for some time now.  The CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics conducts regular surveys and semi-annual estimates of the number of so-called “wireless only” households.  While there’s a significant lag in the data, the trend is obvious.

As of the end of 2022, the NCHS estimates that 73.2% of adults in the US live in homes without a landline.  While there’s a tiny fraction of people with no phone at all, the vast majority of these folks are “wireless only”.

And the trend line is obvious. Over the last 2 years, the percentage of people who are wireless only has grown by more than 6 points, or about 3 points per year. At that rate, we’re less than 10 years from the point that the percentage of people with a landline will be negligible. 

We don’t think that the rate of decline will continue to the point where no one has a landline, but there’s no question that landlines will be less and less relevant as time goes on. We’re already at the point where some demographic groups are almost 90% wireless-only. 

And there’s a feedback loop that has, and will continue to essentially eliminate landline service as an option for many people.  Because building and maintaining landline service is increasingly not profitable for telephone companies, that service is becoming unavailable, especially in rural areas and even in some new developments. 

But there are still reasons for public safety and emergency managers to include landlines in their emergency notification systems.  Less than half of people over the age of 65 live in wireless-only households, for example, and there are still people with only a landline phone. And where service is available, landlines are often much more reliable in rural areas.  

The shift to wireless has been a major theme in Hyper-Reach’s planning over the last few years, which is why we’ve put such an emphasis on registration methods and expanding the ways we help you reach the public. Which is why you should read this issue’s article on Nextdoor, the latest addition to the social media integrations available with Hyper-Reach.

Learning from Business Continuity: Insights for Emergency Managers

Hyper-Reach serves both public safety agencies and businesses that use mass notification. While many of the operations are similar, there are important differences in how public safety/emergency managers use mass alerts compared with private businesses. 

The most obvious answer is about the audience.  Business users are usually communicating with their employees, not the general public.  Public safety users also message employees – both within their agencies and across their county or municipal governments, but there’s a much greater focus on reaching the public, which is harder to do, because of the lack of contact information and other factors. 

That led us to thinking more broadly about how emergency management and business continuity compare as professional disciplines and whether either group can learn from the other. There’s a lot of overlap, but there are also important differences in emphasis that might be useful to think about. 

1. Risk Assessment and Planning

One of the fundamental aspects of business continuity is risk assessment and planning. Before implementing any continuity plan, businesses analyze potential threats, their likelihood, and impact. The objective here is to prioritize, so that resources are focused on the biggest threats. 

Many emergency managers also do risk assessments, especially regarding natural disasters, with the likely addition of pandemics because of COVID-19. But other kinds of disasters, such as those related to technological failures are much less common. And we see less of a focus on prioritization among emergency managers than we see in the business continuity field.  A more comprehensive view of issues and more effort toward ranking risks could enable emergency managers to allocate resources more effectively and prioritize preparedness efforts.

2. Continuity of Operations

Business continuity plans focus on maintaining essential functions during a disruption, including communication, financial, operations and so forth. They want to keep the business going and ultimately restore operations to normal.  

Emergency managers could benefit from ensuring their scope is broad enough to encompass all the elements required to both keep people safe and help get life back to normal. Ensuring the continuity of critical services and infrastructure, such as healthcare, transportation, and communication systems, is vital during emergencies. By identifying key functions and developing strategies to sustain them, emergency managers can minimize the impact of disasters on communities.

3. Communication and Coordination

Effective communication and coordination are essential in both business continuity and emergency management. Business continuity is typically focused on communicating with smaller groups, such as key managers or specific teams. There is a lot of emphasis on knowing who to contact and how to reach them, including failover methods when normal lines of communication are disrupted. Importantly, the business continuity function works on ensuring communication among key constituencies – so they can talk to each other – in addition to communicating with them. 

Emergency managers also focus on coordinating and collaborating with other agencies and organizations and have the additional responsibility of planning for communication with the general public. Our general impression is that EMs tend to see themselves as the hub for these communication efforts and we see less of a concern among emergency managers in making sure that key agencies and departments can communicate with each other. 

By contrast, emergency managers generally have a broader view of what constituencies should be included in a communications plan.  Business continuity managers can take a lesson from EMs and consider what groups outside of the organization can help it recover and restore business operations. 

4. Incident Command Structure

Emergency management relies on a clear incident command structure to ensure efficient coordination and decision-making during emergencies. Business continuity managers tend to assume the existing business management structure, and might consider defining disruption-specific roles and responsibilities within their organizations. Having a well-defined command structure enables swift decision-making and execution of response and recovery plans.

5. Business Impact Analysis

Business continuity practitioners perform business impact analyses to assess the consequences of potential disruptions. This analysis helps in determining which functions are most critical and where resources should be allocated. Emergency managers can adapt this approach by conducting community impact analyses. Identifying vulnerable populations, essential facilities, and critical infrastructure can guide preparedness efforts and resource allocation during emergencies.  

6. Regular Plan Review and Updates

Business continuity plans are not static documents; they are regularly reviewed and updated to reflect changing circumstances and risks. In contrast, we’ve seen a lot of emergency management plans that are two or more years old.  Revisiting and refining emergency plans and procedures regularly is challenging, but valuable, and ensures that plans remain relevant and effective in the face of evolving threats and vulnerabilities.

Conclusion

Emergency managers and business continuity professionals can gain valuable insights from each other. While there are huge areas of overlap, there are lessons to be had in considering how each group approaches risk assessment, continuity planning, communication strategies, training, and ongoing plan review.

Feature of the Month: Citizen Registration by Phone

Did you know that only Hyper-Reach provides a way for residents to sign up for emergency alerts by calling in and answering a few questions? At no additional charge to you?

Telephone sign ups are a great way to get older folks and others with limited internet access to sign up for emergency alerts.  They just pick up the phone, call a dedicated number for your community signups, and answer with their name and address, plus a few additional optional items. The process is super-quick, easy and doesn’t require a smartphone or computer. 

In article 1, we noted that FEMA considers older adults a key target for emergency preparedness, so having a tool that works especially well for them is a great idea. 

We quality-check every call to ensure we get the right name and address, so you can be confident that the signup process is accurate. 

And because it’s easy and accessible to almost anyone, you’ll get more citizens registered and be able to reach more people when you need to!

An Alert Solution: Preventing School Shootings Through Emergency Alerts

In recent years, the disturbing trend of school shootings has become a haunting reality. These violent acts of aggression not only cause immeasurable grief and trauma but also create an environment of fear and insecurity within the educational institutions, disrupting the mission of learning. Recognizing this ongoing challenge, experts have proposed numerous strategies to combat and prevent these tragic incidents. One method involves the use of emergency alert systems. This article explores how a well-structured emergency alert system can play a significant role in preventing school shootings.

Understanding Emergency Alert Systems

An emergency alert system is a comprehensive communication setup designed to provide immediate and timely information during emergencies. It incorporates various technological tools and platforms, including emails, text messages, automated phone calls, and dedicated apps, to distribute critical alerts and instructions. These systems are already in use in various sectors, from weather alerts to evacuation notices during natural disasters.

Role in School Shootings

In the context of school shootings, an emergency alert system can serve several essential functions, including early warning, real-time updates, post-incident guidance, and coordination between emergency services.

  • Early Warning: If a threat is detected – whether from an explicit warning or suspicious behavior – an alert can be immediately issued to all individuals in the school. With an early warning of a potential threat, students and staff can take immediate action to protect themselves, often before the situation escalates.
  • Real-Time Updates: During an active shooter situation, information is critical. A dynamic alert system can provide real-time updates, directing individuals away from the danger, informing them of secure locations, or advising them when it is safe to evacuate.
  • Post-Incident Guidance: Even after a shooter has been neutralized, confusion and fear can persist. Emergency alerts can provide post-incident guidance, including where to gather, where to find medical help, and when it is safe to leave the premises.
  • Coordination with Emergency Services: A well-integrated emergency alert system can also allow for seamless coordination with law enforcement and medical services, expediting response times and ensuring efficient handling of the situation.

Preventing School Shootings

Prevention of school shootings is paramount, and emergency alert systems can play a crucial role in this aspect. For instance, some advanced alert systems incorporate predictive analytics and machine learning algorithms that analyze patterns in data, such as online behavior, to identify potential threats. When a risk is detected, the system can send an immediate alert to the relevant authorities for further investigation.

Additionally, a well-implemented alert system can create an environment of safety and preparedness. Regular drills using the system can teach students and staff how to respond in an emergency, which can help mitigate panic and confusion during a real incident.

Finally, the presence of such a system can also act as a deterrent to potential shooters. Knowing that the school has a robust emergency response plan could discourage them from attempting an attack in the first place.

Conclusion

While emergency alert systems won’t solve school shootings by themselves, they represent a powerful tool in the effort to protect students and staff from such horrific events. By providing real-time information and facilitating rapid response, these systems can save lives and reduce the impact of such incidents. Furthermore, with the continuous advancement in technology, their potential for prevention and protection will only grow. It is incumbent on school administrators and policymakers to prioritize the implementation of these systems, as a critical component of a broader strategy to prevent school shootings.