Feature of the Month: Local Caller ID

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

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

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

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

Sirens Giving Way to Emergency Alert Systems

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

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

Technology has changed a lot since 1970. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Toll On Mental Health from Natural Disasters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Power of Simple

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Are You a Fox or a Hedgehog?

We just signed up to participate in a forecasting tournament on the topic of global existential risk. Over the next few months, we’ll be making forecasts on the probability of disasters such as nuclear catastrophe, massive droughts and biological weapon attacks. This is the second forecasting tournament we’ve competed in over the last five years. They’re a great motivator for researching the issues that you’re preparing for in emergency management. 

These tournaments are university-sponsored research projects designed to determine – among other things – how well “normal” people can predict future events and how their predictions compare with experts. According to the research, many lay people make predictions that outperform people who have spent years studying a topic.

One key to successful forecasting, according to this research – is whether a person is a “fox” or a “hedgehog.”  The analogy describes a fox as someone who can change their opinions relatively easily based on research and competing points of view. A hedgehog, by contrast, is someone who has a distinct world view and interprets information to fit that world view. They tend to be rigid in their beliefs and unwilling or unable to adapt to new information. 

We think the world has a role for both foxes and hedgehogs. And there are probably times when it’s appropriate to switch from one approach to another. But if your job requires you to estimate the likelihood of disaster situations, predict how people will respond to different situations and determine the best mitigation strategies – or to hire someone with those responsibilities – there’s a lot to recommend being a fox. 

How an Automated Call-In Hotline Can Help You When the Heat is On (or Off)

One of our latest products is an automated hotline to help you communicate with residents during an emergency.  It’s a pretty simple idea: you record a message with information you want the public to know and publicize the phone number. People call in to hear your message, which can be easily updated as the situation changes. 

Because we have effectively unlimited call-in capacity, there’s never a busy signal. And because it’s automated, it won’t take up valuable staff time. 

Unlike web-based communications, your residents don’t need to have a computer or be able to read to access the service. Which makes it perfect for the elderly and other populations that don’t have easy access to the Internet. You can even record the message in multiple languages or use a different number for Spanish, for example. 

Last winter Madison County, Virginia had a big power outage when it was very cold, requiring them to get the word out on shelter resources and the status of the electric system. And the hotline worked well for them.  

As Brian Gordon, the Director of Emergency Communications put it:  “The Hotline takes pressure off of vital dispatch staff and EM. It allows for the flow of information that we don’t have to actively monitor during emergency situations.” 

We should also mention that the hotline is highly cost-effective. A one-year subscription will cost you less than your cable bill. To find out more, book our demo.

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Nextdoor.com and Emergency Alerts

If you’re not familiar with the social media platform Nextdoor.com, we think you should look into it. Nextdoor could expand your reach when sending out emergency alerts, encouraging residents to prepare and getting information out on recovery resources and efforts. 

Nextdoor is a social media platform that is focused on where a person lives and the neighborhood or community they live in. A person registering on Nextdoor has to provide their specific address which the company claims to then verify. Postings are focused on local resources, news, events and issues. Some examples:

  • Lost pets;
  • Contractor referrals – either looking for a local contractor or offering opinions about one; 
  • Crime reports, such as break-ins, suspicious persons, etc.
  • Wildlife sightings (I saw a lot of bear sightings when I lived in Asheville, NC.)
  • Local issues: schools, zoning, etc. 

The company claims that nearly 1/3rd of US households use their app. And that might be true. The publicly available web traffic sites such as Semrush.com and Trackalytics shows that they have millions of visitors and page views. We’re also aware of a few counties where their user counts imply about 40+% of households and some counties where it’s obviously much lower. 

Nextdoor offers “Public Agency” accounts to emergency managers, public safety officials and other agencies at the municipal, county and state levels. The accounts are free and enable you to post messages to all users within your jurisdiction or to select specific neighborhoods as those are defined by the company. There’s also a point and radius map selection tool, although we’ve haven’t seen it work.  

Many different kinds of agencies use Nextdoor for communication. We’ve seen general county newsletters, traffic updates from the DOT, sanitation pickup notices and more.

Unlike Facebook and Twitter, your message goes to everyone in your area who has signed up for Nextdoor, which means you could potentially reach a lot more people than you can on other social media sites. And Nextdoor has an “Alert” category – and a separate “Safety” category – that allows you to post messages that should get more attention. 

We’ve been posting messages for clients on Nextdoor in order to encourage residents to sign up for Hyper-Reach. Those messages have been reasonably effective – adding hundreds of signups over time. 

We think Nextdoor is especially appealing to emergency managers in suburban and urban areas and probably less interesting in rural areas. The last three places I’ve lived (Charlotte and Asheville, NC and Staunton, VA) all have pretty active groups of people posting and reacting to posts. But we’ve also seen less populated areas with very little activity. Since the accounts are free, it’s an inexpensive and relatively easy way to expand your reach into the community, so it’s probably worth your agency’s time to at least check it out for your city or county. 

Some agencies have had such good success with Nextdoor that they actively encourage citizens to register for the service. 

We’ve been working on developing an integration with Nextdoor, so that messages sent from Hyper-Reach can also go to Nextdoor, similar to the integrations we have with Facebook, Twitter and other social media. And we’d like to know if you’re interested in that feature.

If you’re interested in Nextdoor, you can help us by completing this survey and passing it on to your peers: https://forms.gle/JbLdueJ4t46yNeKk8.  It asks questions about your familiarity and use of Nextdoor, as well as your interest in different integration options to make Nextdoor work well with other emergency notification systems. 

And if you want to apply for a Public Agency account, you can do that at this link: https://nextdoor.com/agency/apply

IPAWS WEA 10th Anniversary

It’s been 10 years since Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) were added to FEMA’s IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert & Warning System) system. So we thought it was a good time to review where we are with adoption of this important system. 

If you’re in emergency management, you already know that WEA are broadcast messages sent to compatible mobile phones from selected cell towers. As part of IPAWS, the messages are originated by government entities – called Alerting Authorities (AA’s), sent to the IPAWS network, which then distributes the message to mobile phone carriers. Although it’s voluntary, 100+ carriers participate in the WEA program, covering more than 99% of mobile phone subscribers. 

There are more than 1,700 government agencies approved as Alerting Authorities, of which about 600 have used the system, sending more than 70,000 alerts over the past 10 years. 

Adoption of WEA has grown rapidly over the past decade, but the rate of that growth has definitely slowed. Which might be ironic, since WEA has improved substantially in just the past few years. WEA messages can now be much longer (360 characters), offer more information (including a URL or phone number) and more precisely targeted (within 1/10th mile of the intended alert area.) That addresses most of the concerns people had with WEA initially. Jurisdictions that might have considered WEA messages to be a bad fit a few years ago can potentially make much better use of them today. 

Although it’s estimated that WEA Alerting Authorities cover more than 70% of the US population, we think there is still a lot of progress to be made in adoption of WEA among potential users. It’s not clear, for example, that every county EMA has easy access to IPAWS for issues in their area.  And there are oddities that are apparent when you analyze what agencies have been approved for WEA.

Here are some observations based on FEMA’s list of AA’s:

  • While every state has at least one agency with WEA Alerting Authority, many states have multiple agencies that are authorized. In general, where there are more than one, emergency management and the state police – or their equivalents – are authorized. But Texas stands out because their Department of Transportation is an AA.
  • Less than half of all counties have their own alerting authority. While some counties are covered by consolidated communications districts or may have access to their state’s system, we’d bet that there are still hundreds of counties without effective access to WEA.
  • Fewer than 250 municipalities have their own alerting authority. Although some of these are surely covered through other arrangements (their county EMA or a consolidated communications district), our experience suggests that many of these jurisdictions might make good use of their own access to WEA.
  • Less than 20 airports or port authorities are AAs, even though there are thousands of airports in the US. Maybe airports don’t need WEA authority, but if they do, there is clearly a gap in coverage here. 
  • Only three national parks are WEA-authorized.  8 of the 10 most visited parks in the US are not AAs.
  • Of the more than 570 recognized tribal nations in the US, less than 10 are WEA-authorized.
  • While a handful of universities are AAs – including some fairly small ones (NY Stony Brook) – the vast majority are not.
  • Exactly one water district is approved for WEA. We know of many water districts that have their own emergency alert systems. 

We’re not suggesting that every airport or water authority needs their own access to WEA messages or the IPAWS system, but we are suggesting that the question is worth asking. If LAX and DFW should have WEA authority, why not ORD, ATL or DEN?  And if Clemson University is authorized, then why not UNC or UGA?

Of course some of these anomalies can be explained away by cooperative agreements, consolidated communications districts and the like. But we know of thousands of government agencies that have an emergency notification system that could be connected to IPAWS. If it’s important to these agencies to be able to alert the public by voice, text, email, etc., then why not IPAWS/WEA?

Check Out Our Reviews on Capterra!

There are a number of websites that collect customer surveys for software providers, including Capterra, G2, TrustRadius, and others.  

These sites are a great resource for you and your peers when selecting a vendor for an emergency mass notification system. The sites we’ve looked at all provide mechanisms to ensure that the reviews are from verified users of the system and they include structured forms to try to get a reasonably thorough review of the system in question. Although they are paid for by the vendors being reviewed, there’s no opportunity for the vendor to directly interfere with the review process or to submit their own reviews. 

For Hyper-Reach, we decided to start with Capterra.com, which is run by Gartner, a global market research firm. We asked all of our customers to submit a review and offered them a $50 gift card or contribution to the charity of their choice as a thank you. Capterra also offers another thank you worth $20 (also a gift card or charitable contribution.) Both gifts are offered regardless of whether the review is positive or negative.  

So far, we’ve been gratified by the response. Our rating – 4.9 out of 5 – is one of the highest among emergency notification providers and includes many very positive comments. You can see for yourself at https://www.capterra.com/emergency-notification-software/.  You’ll also find reviews for other vendors as well, although you might need to scroll down the list a bit. All the major providers are there: Everbridge (4.3), OnSolve (no reviews), Rave (4.7) and others.

While the reviews we’ve received have been wonderful, we’re trying to get more. So we’re reminding our customers of this opportunity again and again. 

We’re planning to collect reviews for other review sites as well. So hopefully you’ll be seeing us – with similar 5-star reviews – on G2 and similar sites. But it’s a time-consuming process for us and for our customers, so for now, Capterra will do. 

And if you don’t have time to go to the Capterra site, here’s a sample of actual quotes from customers:

Hyper-Reach offered everything we needed at a better price and unlimited messaging.

Great people, wonderful product to work with!

Hyper-Reach software is very easy to implement and use.

Compared to others this is simple to use, can be done from anywhere… 

Customer service is top notch – I’ve never had a question or request not addressed almost immediately. 

One of the best features of this software is it’s user friendly. 

I have not found anything so far that I do not like about this system. 

Hyper-Reach is a great solution for us because it is simple enough for us to use daily, but is capable of expanding as needed during our peak times through the use of ipaws and apps.

We have used Hyper-Reach for almost 10 years and have no intentions of changing. It works, we can afford it and the citizens really like it.

I don’t have any issues with the Hyper-Reach system. It has been great…

Hyper-Reach works every time you need it.

Absolutely wonderful. I highly recommend them to anyone in need of this type of system.

Free Marketing Materials for Your Citizen Signup Campaigns

We’ve been hard at work helping our customers get their residents enrolled in their Hyper-Reach emergency notification system. And these materials are available for your use – even if you’re not a Hyper-Reach customer.

Above is a sample of what we’ve put together in just the last two months: 

All of these materials – and many more – can be easily adapted to your community and agency.  We’ve already turned some of these documents into templates that let you quickly change the logos, community name, agency name and other elements as you require. And we’re working to make all of our materials into easily customizable templates for any agency to use. 

If you’re not using Hyper-Reach today, you might need to make some additional changes. Because Hyper-Reach offers more ways for residents to sign up than other alert providers, some of the content might not apply to you.  For example:

  • Our phone-based sign up process – perfect for older citizens and folks without Internet access – is not offered by most other alert service providers.  
  • Our one-click process that lets residents sign up on their browser is offered by some, but not all mass notification companies. 
  • And only Hyper-Reach offers signing up through Alexa.  So you’ll need to delete text like “just say ‘Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach.’”

But you almost certainly have a web-sign up form. Although we think ours is better, these materials should work fine for your web-based form. Here are some suggestions to make them work even better:

  • Use a QR code or URL shortener like bit.ly to make it easy for residents to find your sign up page.
  • Insist that your vendor provide a web signup form designed to be easy to fill out on a smartphone or tablet. We’ve been careful about this because more than 70% of internet access is on mobile devices. 
  • Ask your vendor to minimize the number of steps that folks have to go through to register. Some of our competitors require account creation first, then filling out a form, then account confirmation, plus multiple invasive questions, etc. So many people don’t actually complete the process. 
  • Try to avoid passwords to set up an account.  Hyper-Reach lets you use your social media account instead of creating a separate username and password. (This also makes it easier to remember how to access your account when you need to make changes.) 

Or you could just switch to Hyper-Reach to take advantage of all the great features we’ve built in to make it easy for residents to sign up!

It’s important to let folks know about your alert service and to give them a reason to sign up.  Which is why we’ve worked with our customers to create ads, flyers, brochures, press releases, signage, billing inserts, social media posts and more to get the word out. 

We’ve also developed a complete marketing plan to help guide the use of all of these materials. 

Although we give customers more attention and service, we’re interested in the safety of all Americans, so we’re glad to offer these materials, even to non-customers.  All you have to do is ask. 

So if your agency wants help in publicizing the alert system, just let us know. You can send us a message at hr_info@hyper-reach.com or fill out the form here