Targeting WEA Messages – FCC Improvements Coming

Recently, Wired magazine wrote an interesting article that discusses the battle between the FCC and wireless carriers over various features (GPS-enabled location tracking, media, and links) that might be implemented as part of FEMA’s IPAWS Wireless Emergency Alerts.

While the FCC and some public safety officials see personalized location tracking as an opportunity to more accurately and precisely inform the public in case of a serious emergency, others raise concerns regarding citizens’ rights to privacy. And wireless carriers have concerns regarding implementation as well as the privacy concerns of their customers and the potential impact to their bottom line.

The FCC also wants to require multimedia content (e.g. images and links) to be embedded in wireless emergency alerts and has passed a rule requiring the inclusion of links and other references in WEA messages. According to the FCC and emergency responders, these changes help to make alerts more informative and effective. Wireless carriers, however, object that adding media to alerts could result in network congestion due to larger message sizes and adding links may also flood their networks as large numbers of people download a lot of data at once.

Mass Emergency Notification systems such as Hyper-Reach typically send messages to local residents via landlines and other communication methods, which a resident could choose during a registration process.  But landlines are only present in 40%-50% of households and less than 10% of residents will typically use a registration process, so there are gaps.  Since IPAWS WEA alerts can reach almost all cell phones and 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.  And soon the links you include in your public notifications will be included with your IPAWS alerts as well.

Hyper-Reach already includes the ability to attach images or links to texts, emails, social media messages and even voice messages.  Some other mass emergency alert systems also support media in messages.  So as new FCC rules go into effect, you’ll be able to include links and other references very soon and image, eventually, into all the message types you wish.  (Assuming you use Hyper-Reach or another system that provides similar support.)

On a more somber note, less than 25% of our local jurisdictions are currently certified with FEMA for authorization to use this valuable tool.  Stay tuned for more on that topic in our next post!

Increasing Community Enrollment for Emergency Alerts

Getting a Mass Emergency Notification (aka Emergency Alert) System is a great way to keep your community informed and safe when an emergency occurs. However, without having your citizens signed up for emergency alerts your chances to reach out to them will be greatly diminished. Even if you use a landline database for making telephone calls, it will have huge gaps, because most people use only their cell phones nowadays.

That’s why a powerful and compelling registration campaign is critical for a successful public notification program. It will get more citizens registered for alerts and increase your notification reach and community preparedness. In our experience, folks often do not know that there’s a notification system or that they can sign up to receive emergency notifications. And in most cases, the community enrollment link for the web-based form is hard to find.

Here are some communication steps that will help you get the word out about your Emergency Notification System:

1. Use multiple communication channels:

  • Add a Sign-up button on your county/city website. Make sure it’s noticeable and easy to find. It’s  preferable to place it on the main page and the pages that are most commonly visited by your citizens.
  • Publish some press-releases in local news sources about the ENS and how community members can sign up for alerts. Cross-post it on your Facebook and Twitter news feeds.
  • Distribute informative leaflets to your citizens during public events, such as city festivals, fairs, marathons to remind them to register for emergency alerts.
  • Include a registration form with a QR-code linked to the web form on utility bills, or send a postcard.

Check out the tri-fold and postcard we did recently for our clients in Cayuga County, NY and Iredell County, NC:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2. Publish and share stories about successful use of the ENS. For example, our recent story about Phillip Roar, a 39-year old Kentucky state inmate who decided to escape the work crew he was on. Thanks to the timely use of the Hyper-Reach integrated emergency notification system, he was captured the next day and returned to custody: https://www.hyper-reach.com/escape-convict-situation-shows-the-power-of-integrated-emergency-notification-services/

3. Run thematic Sign-Up campaigns. For example, we held a Mother’s Day Sign-Up campaign for our clients last year. We used Mother’s Day as an occasion to remind citizens to register for emergency alerts and asked moms from Burke County, NC (a Hyper-Reach client) to help us to encourage their communities to sign up. The posts were published on Facebook pages of our clients.

 

 

 

 

 

If you’re an existing Hyper-Reach client and want to try a campaign like these, just let your Hyper-Reach sales or service representative know.  We’ll be glad to help!

We hope these suggestions will help you increase your community’s enrollment in your Emergency Notification System.

If you do not have such a system and would like to learn more, please Request A Demo and we’ll show you how it all works!

 

How the rapid decline of landline phones affects emergency alerts via the 911 database

As time keeps moving forward, landline phones are rapidly losing their relevance in the United States. According to 10 years of CDC surveys, the percentage of households with landlines goes down about 4% each year. If that trend continues, less than 10% of people will have a landline at home by 2027. Which means landline phones are rapidly becoming technological relics.

As an emergency notification service provider, we pay close attention to these trends. But even we were surprised when one of our customers told us this week that the number of listings in their 911 database went down by 15% this year – so much faster than the national average.

It’s certainly possible that this trend will accelerate. So if you don’t get your citizens’ cell phones registered for emergency alerts, you won’t be able to reach them quickly and effectively in the future.

And recent news stories about the wildfires in California have noted how few people are getting warned by emergency alert systems, because so few people are registered.

https://www.ems1.com/communications-dispatch/articles/334348048-Officials-Calif-widlfires-expose-emergency-alert-weakness/

Fortunately, we’re working on many different ways to get the public signed up for emergency alerts. And we’re willing to share those with you – even if you’re not a Hyper-Reach customer.

[button link=”https://pipedrivewebforms.com/form/ff70cabf6a2ecdb1e3542f6f97558a7a110697″ bg_color=”#2dc9f0″]Request a Demo[/button]

Emergency alerts in your disaster plans

Emergencies and disasters can strike quickly and are often hard to predict when and where they will occur.  While there are many elements to being prepared and taking action, we will focus here on emergency alert systems and their role in preparation and dealing with emergencies.

As you know, Emergency Management Cycle includes four interdependent risk-based functions: Preparedness, Response, Recovery, and Mitigation.

Adapted from Texas State Safety School:
https://txssc.txstate.edu/topics/emergency-management/articles/taking-the-next-step

Here’s how we see emergency alerts fitting into these four elements:

1. Preparedness. Your citizens need to understand what emergency alerts are available to them, what they need to do to receive them and how they fit into their response to severe weather or any disaster that could occur in your area: hurricanes, earthquakes, extreme cold, flooding, terrorism, etc. FEMA material may discuss IPAWS alerts (for example, https://www.ready.gov/make-a-plan), but omit local resources, such as your emergency alert system, social media feeds, local news, etc. To be fully prepared, you should include your local emergency alert sign up form in your educational materials and explain how to follow your Facebook and/or Twitter feeds.

2. When you predefine scenarios for emergency situations that may happen in your area, you should also set expectations about what kinds of information are likely to be available from which sources. For example, IPAWS WEA messages may come from the National Weather Service, in addition to your agency. IPAWS WEA messages are going to be short and without much detail.  Messages from your agency may have more detail.  And social media and local news may have more detail yet.  Research shows that citizens will search out more information before taking action, so help them know where to look and what to trust.

3. Include Emergency Alerts in Your Training and Exercises – as you train your personnel to be familiar with detection, alarm, communications, warning, and protection systems, include emergency notifications. And that includes information that comes from sources other than your agency, such as NWS and even citizens’ social media feeds.

4. Make your communication plan comprehensive – a prompt warning to your citizens to evacuate, shelter or lockdown can save lives.

  • Choose the different types of communication that you are going to use in case of an emergency to inform your community.
  • Let citizens know how exactly you will notify them – and what other sources may be saying.
  • Do not rely on landline phones alone for emergency alerts. While 911 data is easier to get, it’s also becoming less and less reliable since more people use only cell phones.
  • Get as many citizens registered for emergency alerts as possible.

Can you do all of that with the one system only?

Yes.  An integrated mass emergency notification system (ENS) such as Hyper-Reach, can send messages such as voice, text, email and social media posts with a single set of actions.  With IPAWS you can conduct COG-to-COG communications and even send alerts to local media using the EAS system.  ENS also lets you communicate with your personnel and citizens via “two-way messaging”, geo-target the emergency audience, save templates for later use and much more.

Emergency alerts can definitely reduce the impact of disasters and sometimes avoid the danger completely.

Hyper-Reach Used in a Three-Hour Police Standoff in Rochester

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (TWCNews)  —  A domestic situation Friday inside a home on the 100 block of Rosewood Terrace sparked a three-hour police standoff. One man is now in custody and Rochester police officers are searching for a gun.

It started around 2 p.m. Friday when police said they received a phone call from a woman inside who said she was in trouble. Once officers arrived, the woman told police a man inside the house may have had a handgun.

“Any time you have situation with a possible gun, you want to quickly establish a perimeter around the location so the suspect can.t leave the location and no one can go inside,” explained Rochester Police Lieutenant LaRon Singletary.

The perimeter was just feet away from an School No. 33, which had just dismissed, but there were still a few students on the elementary school campus.

A Rochester City School District spokesperson said about a dozen kids were in the school for open gym time, so the school called their parents to pick them up.

“We had the area contained to Rosewood Terrace. Individuals were told to evacuate to the Webster Avenue side. There was no danger to anyone who was inside the school. We did place officers inside the school so that anyone inside the school was aware of what was going on,” Singletary said.

Neighbors in the area received a Hyper-Reach call alerting them to take shelter and remain inside their homes as police, SWAT, and hostage negotiators tried to get the man out of the home. 

Nearly three hours after the situation started, police went into the home and arrested the man without any problems. Singletary said it was best possible outcome.

“Time was on our side. We utilized SWAT Team, hostage negotiations. The initial responding officers were able to quickly set up a perimeter and contained the situation.”

The suspect is facing charges, which could range from menacing to possible criminal possession of a weapon if a gun is found.

RecordTime™ – Send a Real Voice Message ASAP!

Of all the features that Hyper-Reach offers, we really like RecordTime, which enables you to record a voice message directly on your PC or laptop.

Before RecordTime, our customers had to go through a tedious procedure of recording their message by either calling it in or recording it using another application.   Then, they’d need to transfer the recording to the system for sending out to the public.

Now, with RecordTime, recording a voice message on your PC is as simple as clicking a button and talking into your PC-connected microphone.  The message is recorded directly within the Hyper-Reach system, so there’s no need to transfer files anywhere.  And because RecordTime uses your PC microphone instead of the telephone, the clarity is as good as it gets.

If you’re a Hyper-Reach client and haven’t tried RecordTime, give it a try.  And if you need help, just let your account executive know.

IPAWS/WEA and Hyper-Reach Aid Wildfire Evacuation

As many people saw, Washington State was ravaged by wildfires in July, destroying hundreds of thousands of acres of forest. Officials estimate the damage at six times the average annual area normally damaged by wildfire.

Stevens County – a Hyper-Reach client – was spared fatalities, in part, thanks to an effective evacuation campaign, aided by the new FEMA Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) system, which is part FEMA’s IPAWS system.

The fire was the first time Stevens County public safety officials have used the Wireless Emergency Alert system, in addition to phone calls and texts sent by Hyper-Reach.  One advantage of the WEA system is that it reaches “wireless-only” households, where more than 40% of Washington State residents live. 

The Hyper-Reach system enables public safety personnel to send WEA and other emergency alerts through the same standardized interface.  To find out more about how Hyper-Reach can enable emergency officials to access IPAWS, go to www.hyper-reach.com

Signing up for Emergency Alerts using SMS

We’re adding a new way for residents to register for local emergency alerts. It’s simple, easy and makes a ton of sense: using SMS.

The process starts by texting a message to our registration number. For example, send “burkealerts” to 828-201-3877 (assuming you’re in Burke Count, NC). You’ll get a reply asking for your address.

Then for confirmation, we’ll ask for your name.

Third, we’ll ask for an email address, in case you want messages sent there.

Last, we’ll ask for the numbers of other people you think should be signed up.

Terms and conditions are here: https://secure.hyper-reach.com/comsignup-disclaimer.jsp?id=40005

After all, if we’re going to get people to register their phones, doesn’t it make sense to use the device we want them to register?

The value of a vendor-neutral Emergency Alert enrollment process

We found this on the Winn Parish-Office of Emergency Preparedness Facebook page:

Winn Parish has changed our Mass Alert System from FirstCall to CodeRED. This change was made due to cost increase. Our new provider, CodeRED has a good service, only problem is that I must ask you to sign up for some CodeRED services where you already had signed up for FirstCall.

Besides wishing that they had called us (we’re generally about 20%-30% less expensive than CodeRED), the other lesson we take from this is the wisdom of using a vendor-neutral enrollment site like USNEAR.org.

If Winn Parish had used the US National Emergency Alert Registry for its enrollments, it could have kept all of the community’s data and simply transferred it to their new vendor.  And they probably would have gotten more sign-ups in the first place, since the USNEAR site has many advantages over typical sign-up pages.

Of course, USNEAR only started last year, so it wasn’t an option when they started with FirstCall.  But maybe it’s a good idea now?

The growing need for emergency alerts by text

Recently we saw this from the FCC:

… current trends in mobile wireless usage have shown continued evolution from a predominantly voice-driven medium of communication to one based more on data transmissions; for example, from 2009 to 2011, average minutes of use per subscriber per month, a measure of voice usage, continued to decline, while U.S. mobile data traffic increased 270 percent from 2010 to 2011, having more than doubled each year.

In short, text (SMS) is overtaking voice as the preferred method of communication.

But most emergency alert vendors are not keeping up:

First, some alert vendors continue to use email or other gateways, instead of direct SMS access.  That saves money, but it delays the message and limits 2-way communication.

Second, registration rates for emergency alerts are still too darn low.  We’ve yet to hear of any community which has more than a 10% registration rate.  And if folks aren’t registered, their mobile number is not available.

If the emergency alert community is going to get serious about keeping up with the 21st century, we need to do more than offer technology.  We need to change human behavior and get people signed up.