Hurricane Season is here! Are your notifications ready?

The hurricane season has begun. NOAA recently released their 2018 hurricane predictions – the season will be average or slightly above the norm. The forecast indicates a 70% chance of seeing between 5 and 9 hurricanes, with a total of 10-16 named storms.

It’s still impossible to precisely predict the number of hurricanes that will hit the coast, and even harder to predict how strong they will become or the extent of the damage they will cause. “There are no strong climate signals saying it’s going to be extremely active, like last year, or extremely weak,” Gerry Bell, a lead forecaster at NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center, recently told reporters. Because history has shown that the effects of such storms can be devastating, preparedness is critical.  

The good thing is that unlike some other severe weather hazards, we usually have advance notice of hurricanes, so usually, there’s time for some preparation. As an Emergency Notification System provider, we’d like to focus on how to prepare an effective communication plan for the hurricane season and how your Emergency Notification System may help you with that.

Since you don’t get a chance to edit the weather alerts sent out by the National Weather Services, you’ll want to fill in the gaps by providing your community with detailed instructions and updated information during a hurricane. So we highlighted these 3 steps that we hope will help you to do that:

Step 1 – Prepare before the hurricane season begins:

Although the hurricane activity can’t be predicted precisely, we recommend that you don’t wait for the NOAA alert, rather include your communication strategy in your pre-season preparations.

This time you could spend on:

  • Developing your hurricane communication plan. Modern notification systems, such as Hyper-Reach, let you use multiple communication channels to spread instructions to your community. You can send your alerts simultaneously via voice messages, text, email, social media and IPAWS. Remember to include links into your messages, if possible, to provide more detail.
  • Ramp up your ENS enrollment efforts before the season starts – remind your citizens that hurricane season is on the way and that those who haven’t signed up for emergency alerts should do this as soon as possible. Explain the importance of this action and provide some good examples.  Use all the means available to you to enroll your community members.
  • Informing the public about your ENS communication plan, and that in addition to the alerts from the National Weather Service, they should watch for notifications from you that may include instructions and guidance.
  • Preparing hurricane emergency notification templates. This will save you time during an emergency. Pay particular attention to the message structure. You can learn more about an effective message structure in one of our recent  posts.

Step 2 – When the storms begin, follow your plan:

  • If the hurricane strikes, remember to use your pre-designed templates and follow your hurricane preparedness plan. At this point, you should have already identified who will be responsible for preparing and sending these alerts.
  • Keep your citizens informed on all stages of the hazard – provide updates with critical information and new instructions as needed before, during and in the aftermath of the storm. This will help people to stay safe and react appropriately:
    • before the storm – tell your citizens what precautions should be taken. Here are some examples: let people know where shelter locations are, provide evacuation route, remind them to prepare an emergency preparedness kit and to keep important documents with them or in a safe place. Recommend them to monitor local news for updates as well.
    • provide your people with as many updates as needed during and in the aftermath of the storm – give them accurate directions on how to avoid danger, and the evacuation plan, if needed. Update your citizens with flooding information, advice to be careful during the clean-up: avoid wading in flood water, touching wet electrical equipment and downed, damaged power lines etc. And finally, tell people when it’s safe to return back home.

Step 3 – Measure Your Effectiveness

Measure the effectiveness of your emergency communication campaign. A robust mass notification system, such as Hyper-Reach, will provide informative reports that allow you to measure performance of your notifications and see what channels and messages were most effective. This will help you to be even more prepared and efficient next time.

Emergency Notification Systems can be powerful tools.  They have proved to be extremely useful in notifying the community about all types of dangerous situations. In many cases they have helped to save lives and helped citizens to avoid danger. If you don’t have such a system in place yet, or want to see how your current system compares with the Hyper-Reach Emergency Notification System, please request a demo and we would be more than happy to show you all the advantages Hyper-Reach provides.  

As one of our many “firsts” in the ENS industry, Hyper-Reach will soon be releasing our new Push Notifications. Keep an eye on our upcoming blog posts for more details on this and other new feature releases!

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Plan Ahead: Emergency Message Templates

In our recent post – “Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Severe Weather Alerts” – we talked a little about how to structure an emergency notification message. We’d like to expand on this topic.

According to Dr. Dennis Mileti, Professor Emeritus and former Director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder, a successful warning message should include these five components (https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/159069):

  • Source: who the message is from;
  • Hazard: the threat and its impacts;
  • Location: the impact area boundaries described in a way that can be easily understood (for example: street names, landmarks, natural features and political boundaries);
  • Guidance (Protective Action)/Time: what protective action to take, when to do it, how to do it, and how doing it reduces impacts;
  • Expiration time: when the alert/warning expires and/or new information will be received.

Through our emergency notification experience, we’ve discovered that message style is also very important. A successful notification message should:

  • be brief but impactful: simple and straight to the point.
  • use simple language: avoid jargon and technical language. It must be easy to understand for all residents of your community regardless of their age and occupation.
  • include a picture and/or a source for more details or updates.

In contrast, sending out an inappropriate message could cause results that are completely opposite to what you intended.  Instead of helping people to avoid/escape an emergency, a badly worded message may create unnecessary panic or inaction.

To help insure a good message structure, it’s useful to have some ready templates that you can use as a starting point when writing a warning message. Which is why Hyper-Reach offers the ability to create saved message templates, and is improving that capability. Templates can not only save you time but also will serve as a good quality control practice, avoiding inconsistencies and mistakes.

Although current IPAWS/WEA messages are limited to 90 characters, it’s still possible to cover the most important information with IPAWS/WEA and supplement with other messaging methods. So if you have a modern Emergency Notification system such as Hyper-Reach in place, you can send out not only 90-character WEA messages but also more detailed text messages, emails, Facebook and Twitter posts.

Recent changes to FCC rules for WEA are also helpful.  For one, you can now include a URL in a WEA message, which allows for a link to a page with much more detail.  And the FCC has changed the rules about WEA message length – although they won’t take effect until next year – increasing to 360 characters.

Summarizing our recommendations above, we’ve prepared some efficient templates for 90-character WEA messages and 160-character SMS messages that you can use and model your own messages on.  You can download them here.

If you have other types of messages you’d like us to template, please let us know.  You can send your suggestions to jveilleux@ashergroup.com.

National Police Day

 

This week is National Police Week. Beginning in 1962, President Kennedy proclaimed May 15 as National Police Memorial Day and the calendar week in which May 15 falls – National Police Week.

It’s dedicated to honor those officers that have fallen in the line of duty and to remind us what hard and dangerous work law enforcement professionals are facing every day while serving their communities. This year 30,000-40,000 people are expected to attend the National Law Enforcement Memorial in Washington DC. (The complete schedule of events is here: https://www.nleomf.org/programs/policeweek/).

Craig Floyd, CEO of the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, said “The tragic deaths … (are) a stark reminder of the dangers our law enforcement professionals face each and every day while protecting and serving our communities. Too often, their service and sacrifice are taken for granted.”  

So let’s not forget about the sacrifices these courageous people make for us.

Last year, 129 officers died in the line of duty, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund data (https://www.nleomf.org/facts/officer-fatalities-data/causes.html). Although that’s down 19% from 2016, we are still losing far too many of our brave men and women in blue. As of Monday, 53 officers have died in the line of duty across the country this year, an enormous loss for the American nation.

As an Emergency Notification Services vendor we recognize that the main concern of law enforcement professionals is the community they serve, which is an interest we share, since we are privileged to serve many of those communities. In keeping with National Police Week, we asked some of America’s finest to share their thoughts about National Law Enforcement Memorial taking place this week in Washington D.C. and about ways that Emergency Notification might be used to help protect the lives of their officers.

Here are some of their responses:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We very much appreciate the comments above. Losing an officer is a tragic loss, not only to their family and colleagues but also to the community they served. To the extent that emergency notifications may help officers to avoid or decrease danger by spreading the word quickly among colleagues and community, we are glad to offer that service.

In conclusion, we’d like to express our deep gratitude to the members of law enforcement who daily put their lives on the line to protect and to serve their communities and uphold the fabric of society which makes up our great nation. We appreciate your courage and your commitment, we thank you for your willingness to serve and the sacrifices you make.  We share your sorrow and deep sense of loss for your fallen. Thank you!

P.S: We’d like to continue this conversation and expand on this article.  So if you have other thoughts about the memorial, the sacrifice of fallen officers and the risks you face every day serving your communities, please share those with us.  And we’d love to hear your thoughts about how emergency notification services can help you both serve your communities and minimize and respond to the dangers you face. If you’d like to share those thoughts, please drop us a line here.

 

Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Severe Weather Alerts

Recent discussions around last year’s California wildfires caught our attention. (https://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/-Wildfires-Emphasize-Need-to-Improve-Emergency-Alert-Systems.html)

Back in October, the decision of local authorities not to send out a warning message using the IPAWS Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) may have cost many lives. Some local officials think that a statewide standard for severe weather alerts, similar to that for for Amber Alerts, could have solved the problem.

Although statewide guidance might be helpful, we think that local authorities may not want to wait for their state and might choose, instead, to develop their own local standards. Most severe weather emergencies are local and can even differ from one county to another. Local standards could help emergency responders to react faster by reducing the hesitation level – one of the delay factors in issuing a warning.

Below we highlight some recommendations that can help you to be more prepared when a severe weather emergency strikes:

  • Identify weather hazards that are most common for your area and create a response protocol for each of them.
  • Cooperate with neighboring counties and cities on creating the same standards for similar weather hazards. This will ease the coordination between affected territories when an emergency hits.
  • Identify triggers and set clear requirements – when exactly an emergency alert should be sent to residents. It might also be useful to classify weather emergencies by hazard level.
  • Determine people who would be responsible for sending out weather emergency alerts and make sure to organize training for them.
  • Create a detailed communication plan:
    • Identify what communication channels might be down during common weather emergencies and what channels are preferable to use. The more channels you use the better.
    • Create message templates for each of possible severe weather situation in your area. Pay particular attention to the message content.

According to Dr. Mileti, Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado Boulder, successful warning message should include these elements (https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/159069):

· Source
· Hazard
· Location Personalization
· Consequences
· Protective Action
· How action reduces Consequences
· Expiration Time

Here’s an example of such a message:

While this is a great example of such a notification, WEA messages are still  limited to 90 characters (a change to 360 characters has been adopted by the FCC but is not in effect yet.) So you can’t such a long message yet.

Here’s an example of approximating the same message across within the current 90 character limit:

Elm Cty Sheriff:Creek flooding from Maple-Hwy110,

Wood City.Drowning risk! Get out by 6PM!

While it’s less detailed, it still includes the most important information like source, hazard location and type, protective action to be taken and how quickly residents need to act.

Alternatively, we’ve recommended using two 90-character messages when the need is great.  So here’s that:

Elm Cty Sheriff: Elm Creek flooding 25+ ft,

both sides from Maple-Hwy 110 in Wood City.

Elm Cty Sheriff (ctd): Move 2+ blocks out by 6PM

or you will drown. Msg expires 11PM.

  • Predefine residents that might be at risk and create sending lists in advance. You can always adjust them.
  • Plan for upcoming changes to WEA messages so you’re ready to modify the protocols to take advantage of those.

Sonoma County local officials stated that the reason why Sonoma County decided not to send out emergency alerts in October was because their notification system can cover too wide area and they thought that sending alerts to every available cell phone in a county – rather than just those in a targeted evacuation zone – could cause unnecessary panic (https://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/-Wildfires-Emphasize-Need-to-Improve-Emergency-Alert-Systems.html).  Although that’s a valid concern, what the research suggests is that a broadcast WEA alert – especially with the “location personalization” described above, can be an important part of the process of getting people to act.

Because the FCC has changed the rules around WEA messages, you’ll be able to take advantage of these improvements within the next year or two:

  • 360 character messages that will allow for much more information;
  • A hyper-link that lets citizens click over to a webpage or map with more information;
  • Better targeting of messages – with requirements by the FCC that mobile carriers can subdivide their towers’ broadcast areas into more specific sub-sections.

Because of the changing nature of the mass notification landscape, you may have to revise your protocols over time. And if you start the process by creating a set of protocols you can use today, you’ll have a headstart on new technology as it becomes available.

Want to implement IPAWS for your community?  Contact us today. We can help you get started.

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Going Beyond Automated Weather Alerts

This article on new flood monitoring technology caught our eye for many reasons. It’s about cities in Virginia which are working on a system of water level and related monitors that are meant to provide an advanced warning system for flooding risk. The project – called StormSense – is part of a bigger project to develop new technologies that make cities more resilient and secure. Because of the many awards the StormSense project has received, we think it has strong possibilities for expansion beyond coastal Virginia.

There are a number of implications for emergency notification systems that we think are worth talking about:

  1. Although the alerts generated by this system are only going to emergency managers for now, this system may eventually be available for automated alerts, in much the same way that Hyper-Reach monitors National Weather Service warnings and sends out automated alerts to the affected areas. So, as this technology develops and spreads, we could have new inputs to more accurately warn citizens of hazards that may affect them.
  2. This technology leverages the Amazon cloud, and we think that’s important, since we’ve moved much of our infrastructure to AWS’ platform. As we’ve talked about before, there are enormous scalability, reliability and cost advantages to using the cloud for computing and communication technologies of all kinds. Which is why we’re moving much of Hyper-Reach to cloud computing platforms.
  3. While this technology is specifically about floods, there are many more potential sources of automated inputs to emergency notification systems. For example, there was this story the other day about sensors that can recognize the sound of gunfire, determine its location and even the caliber of the weapon and lock down a school. Although the article didn’t mention emergency alerts, that’s an obvious potential application. As artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IOT) expands, we can expect to see many more opportunities to generate alerts to warn the public that require little or no human intervention. It may sound like science fiction now, but in 10 or 20 years these ideas may seem commonplace.

As these – and related – technologies develop, you can count on Hyper-Reach to keep an eye out for their availability and usefulness for emergency notification purposes. After all, we were one of the first to offer automated weather alerts.

Best Practices in Emergency Notification: Missing Person Alerts

Every second counts when a vulnerable person is missing and any information that can help the investigation is potentially invaluable. So getting the word out about a missing person can be vitally important.

Using data from 2016, there were over 88,000 missing person cases in the United States, with almost 40% of those being children under the age of 18.

Fortunately, modern Emergency Notification Systems (ENS) allow law enforcement agencies to use multiple communication methods – including social media – to greatly increase the chances of locating a missing person. There are many examples of residents’ quick response to alert messages helping find a missing person within a few hours.

To get the maximum benefit from an emergency alert system, consider these recommendations when sending out the missing person alert:

  1. Get as many citizens enrolled in the ENS as possible. While this counts mostly BEFORE you send out a message, you can also use the current emergency to give citizens a reason to sign up. Let your community know there’s an Emergency Notification System in place and that it will be used for emergency situations. Your current emergency is a good example of how the ENS system will be used. Add a message telling folks to sign up as part of your messaging about the emergency.
  2. Your message should be brief but impactful. Provide accurate physical characteristics and some valuable details that can help locate a missing person (for example, the last place a missing person was seen). Also, add a link for more information and make sure to include a contact number where citizens can call in case they have information to report. A good Emergency Notification System such as Hyper-Reach also allows you to attach the picture of a missing person to help to find them even faster.
  3. Send a missing person alert message via multiple channels including social media and WEA, when appropriate. This will help to fill in the gaps in contact lists since landlines are only present in 40%-50% of households. You can use Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA, part of IPAWS) when there is significant risk to life.  (Note that Amber Alerts will typically be sent by WEA). Also, get help from a local media to spread the word.
  4. Avoid sending out a missing person alert during late night hours. Experience shows that citizens will be irritated if you wake them up with a missing person alert in the middle of the night. And the odds of getting help from the general public at 3 AM are pretty slim. If you have to send an alert in the middle of the night, make the distribution of that alert as small as possible (Hyper-Reach allows you to limit your distribution to areas as small as individual street segments or even a set of specific addresses). Then send out a broader alert to arrive first thing in the morning.  Modern systems – including Hyper-Reach – have the ability to schedule a message to be sent on a specific date and time.

Emergency notification systems have proven to be a powerful tool for locating missing persons. Thanks to the different communication methods that can be accessed at one time, ENS use significantly increases the chances of finding a missing person. We hope that our recommendations will help you to use your emergency notification system more fully and effectively. And if you do not yet have such a system, we would be glad to show you the benefits of adding ENS to your emergency response toolkit.

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Why Giving Citizens Lots of Choices is a Bad Strategy for Citizen Signups

Every major provider of mass Emergency Notification Systems offers some kind of web-based registration or signup form.  Some of them are very good and others, frankly, are terrible.

Rather than go through all the reasons why some forms are not good at getting people to sign up, this article focuses on one: too many choices. Many forms ask people to make too many decisions, resulting in them never completing the form at all.  

Consider the following from a variety of expert sources:

Sid Bharath, Business Writer:

“When more choice is offered to a consumer, the decision-making takes longer and requires more energy, eventually driving them to the safest option, [which is making no decision]….  Instead, try making it a bit easier for them. Give them fewer choices and fewer options and see if it increases your conversion rates and sales.”

The Economist:

Too many options means too much effort to make a sensible decision: better to bury your head under a pillow, or have somebody else pick for you…. As the French saying has it: “Trop de choix tue le choix” (too much choice kills the choice).”

Nicholas Cardot, Web Marketing Consultant:

“Increasingly the scientific/academic community, as well as the marketing world, have been churning out studies that prove emphatically that more options always leads to fewer actions. And conversely, fewer options always lead to more actions being taken. “

Now, you may think that asking people to register for emergency alerts is not selling anything.  But actually, it is. You are selling the opportunity to be notified in an emergency and the price you’re charging is the time and effort the citizen needs to make in order to fill out the form.

Sophisticated marketers have tools that let them measure completion rates (how many people complete a form as a percentage of visitors to the page) and other results.  They use technology to see where people get confused and at what point they stop filling out a form or complete a process.  

We do that too. And we’re going to tell you that asking citizens to decide if they want information about trash pickup, weather advisories, community events, etc. is a bad idea if what you really want is to get citizens signed up for emergency alerts.

And here’s another thing: it’s not necessary to ask all these questions when you get citizens signed up.  If instead, you focus on getting them registered for emergency alerts, and then, later, you ask them for the other information, you can have your cake and eat it too.  

So here is our suggestion to get the maximum number of signups for your emergency alert system. Make the initial registration process as simple as possible for your citizens. Then, if you want, after they’ve enrolled, you can request more information.  

Best Practices in Emergency Notification: “Should I send this message?”

There’s no doubt about using your Emergency Notification System (ENS) when there is an imminent threat to life or property. But what about alerts that are not really emergencies? Is it appropriate to use ENS for non-urgent notifications or to disburse general information?

Based on various sources we’ve researched, and including our own conversations and experience with Hyper-Reach clients, most users nationwide utilize their Emergency Notification Systems strictly for emergency situations.  But there are others that use their ENS for both emergency and non-emergency situations. So there are at least two schools of thought on this issue.

Even though there are a significant number of ENS users that are comfortable with sending non-emergency messages, we recommend that emergency managers take into account the potential pitfalls of using their ENS for non-emergency purposes. Flooding your citizens with information they perceive to be unimportant may annoy them, make them less likely to pay attention to future alerts, and worse yet, may lead them to unsubscribe altogether.

We don’t recommend using an ENS to notify the public about everything that happens in your community, such as the Fireman’s Carnival taking place next weekend, or to remind people to put out their trash or to read their water meters. But if you’ve got the blizzard of the century coming in and need folks to get their cars off the street for snow removal, that might be a perfect occasion to notify the public.

And even though we think ENS should be mostly used for notifying the public about emergencies and severe weather alerts, it can make sense to use an ENS for sending highly relevant non-emergency messages to prevent a dangerous situation from developing, such as notifying the public about unexpected road closures.   

And although it’s called an Emergency Notification System, many such systems can be used for non-emergency messages that won’t create citizen anxiety.  For example, Hyper-Reach allows you to post information (including images) quickly and easily to multiple Facebook and Twitter accounts as well as to your web site(s), email accounts and other outlets without sending voice or text messages.  And because one message can be sent to all these outlets simultaneously through our single interface, you might find it an easy way to send non-emergency messages.

If you do decide to use your Emergency Notification System to send non-emergency messages, we encourage you to consider these guidelines:

  • Let your community know in advance that you might use ENS for non-emergency messages from time to time, especially if you’re going to use the voice and text messaging;
  • Give citizens a very limited choice about the type of messages they will receive.  (Why very limited?  Because lots of choices will reduce your signup rate and undermine the whole purpose of your ENS.  We’ll discuss that in a later post.)
  • Think about whether or not the urgency of the notification warrants sending phone and text messages;
  • Limit the frequency of non-urgent messages;
  • Make sure these messages are highly relevant and important;
  • Consider whether traditional media and/or social media outlets might be sufficient to notify the public if it’s not an emergency.

So what do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Please click here to take our quick survey.

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Let’s Get More Jurisdictions on IPAWS

In our last post, we noted the small percentage of local governments that have access to IPAWS. Nationally about 25% of county level alerting authorities and less than 1% of municipal authorities are approved to use IPAWS.

While there is still room for improvement at the county level, let’s look at the data to see if there’s anything that explains why so few municipalities have access to IPAWS:

  • There are 27 states where less than a quarter of county authorities are approved to use IPAWS;
  • Only 8 states (WY, WV, AZ, MN, IA, NY, CA, MD) have more than half of their counties with emergency response organizations authorized to use IPAWS;
  • In 25 states, less than 1% of municipality authorities are certified to use it;
  • And only 2 states, NV and VA, have more than 5% of municipalities with IPAWS alerting authority. See the full list 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 22 23 95.7% NV 2 19 10.5%
WV 44 55 80.0% VA 12 229 5.2%
AZ 11 15 73.3% CA 15 482 3.1%
MN 60 87 69.0% NM 3 103 2.9%
IA 61 99 61.6% CO 5 271 1.8%
NY 35 57 61.4% MT 2 129 1.6%
CA 31 57 54.4% WV 3 232 1.3%
MD 12 23 52.2% WA 3 281 1.1%
WA 17 39 43.6% NH 2 234 0.9%
LA 26 60 43.3% OR 2 241 0.8%

(data current as of Nov. 2017)

The diversity of IPAWS authority ranges from cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, but also Tehachapi, CA, population 12,500. In Montana, Helena is an IPAWS Alerting Authority, but so is Havre, with less than 10,000 people. Meanwhile Billings, Missoula and Great Falls – the three largest cities in MT, are not using IPAWS.

An obvious potential explanation for this situation could be the way emergency management is organized in different states. For example, in Nevada and Virginia, each municipality and county has its own Emergency Manager (usually the Fire Chief or Deputy Fire Chief), while in states with smaller local populations such as Wyoming and West Virginia, emergency response is usually coordinated at the county level.

Also, some of the smallest states such as NH, DE, VT, RI, and CT use a statewide ENS and currently only state level authorities are approved to use IPAWS in these states.

For local governments, other factors could be:

  • They don’t see emergency notification as a municipal responsibility;
  • They rely on alternative methods such as sirens, radio/TV alerts and social media;
  • Lack of funds. Since many local municipalities are small and have limited resources they may choose to piggy-back on their county’s Emergency Management;
  • Geographic area concerns. Although this issue is being addressed by the FCC, it’s potentially the case that IPAWS WEA messages may reach too many or too few of the intended audience.

While not using IPAWS allows municipal authorities to save money, on the downside, they will have less control over the notification process. In addition, it can take more time to get the county to send out alerts on their behalf during critical situations when seconds count.

We do hope that more counties and cities will consider pursuing IPAWS certification soon and benefit from this evolving and improving technology.

Here’s also a 5-minute FEMA overview of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS):

https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/videos/77356#

 

A Closer Look at IPAWS

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Based on recent data, less than 25% of local jurisdictions are currently certified with FEMA as Alerting Authorities authorized to use the Integrated Public Alert & Warning System (IPAWS). https://www.fema.gov/media-library/assets/documents/117152.

Percentage of Local Alerting Authorities approved to use IPAWS

Authority Level IPAWS Alerting Authorities Total Jurisdictions %
County 753 3,031 24.8%
Municipal 104 34,376 0.3%

Alerting Authorities with IPAWS certification by organization type

State County Municipal Tribal Military University/School
77 753 104 4 16 5

Although every state has IPAWS authority (and some have multiple agencies with authority), local governments are not making much use of IPAWS.  And that’s unfortunate, in our opinion.

We don’t know all the reasons why so many local governments aren’t using IPAWS, but here are some possible factors, with particular focus on WEA (Wireless Emergency Alert) messages that go to cell phones:

  1. IPAWS targeting is not precise enough.  There are still many counties where at least some of the mobile carriers will broadcast a WEA message across the entire county. And others where even the selected area may be too broad for the purposes of the alert;
  2. Limited message length.  At 90 characters, IPAWS WEA messages don’t carry a lot of content.  So perhaps potential users don’t think it’s so valuable;
  3. Restrictive usage rules. Since IPAWS WEA messages can only be used when there’s a likely or higher risk of imminent death or property loss, potential users might think they can’t use IPAWS, even in cases where they really can.
  4. Cost.  While IPAWS itself is free, you need software to access it, and that usually has a cost.  But lots of counties and cities have some kind of emergency notification system, such as Hyper-Reach, and almost all of those companies offer IPAWS software.
  5. Adoption curve.  It takes time for people to change.  And while Hyper-Reach was quick to jump on the use of IPAWS, not every emergency notification company was, so maybe it’s just a matter of time.

Why is having IPAWS at the local level so important?

  • Having their own access to IPAWS gives local authorities the ability to send alerts immediately without having to go through other channels. So they can get critical information out to the public faster and save more lives.
  • Since more than 95% of people have a mobile phone, IPAWS WEA can fill in the gaps to reach residents and visitors in an affected area who haven’t registered for emergency alerts.
  • As new functionality and better targeting becomes a reality, IPAWS WEA will become an even more effective tool for notifying citizens in case of an imminent threat, both from a delivery perspective and with enhanced content adding impact for better results.

We think that more counties and cities should be using IPAWS.  And we can help.

If you want to find out more about IPAWS and how it integrates with an Emergency Mass Notification System, we would be happy to explain it in greater detail and show you how it all works.

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