Communication Through the Next Stages of the Covid-19 Crisis

You already know how important communication is to your public during this incredibly stressful time. And you know how challenging it is. This article is meant to help you anticipate what’s coming and it affects your communication. We don’t pretend to have the answers to these issues, but we think it’s important to recognize them and try to consider how they might affect your messages and their impacts.

We see five big things happening over the next few months that will affect your Covid communication strategy:

  1. The election. The level of political polarization among Americans is at a particularly high level. You already know this, of course, and we expect this polarization to get worse as we get closer to November 3. 

Researchers in this area have documented how political differences affect the reception by the public to health measures. In addition, many researchers believe that as “polarization progresses, the less likely individuals will be moved by the words or actions of others.”

  1. The economy. While the US has managed to avoid the full impacts of a deep recession during the first six months of the pandemic and has already begun to recover, many economists think we are headed for a much rougher time in the months ahead. (Although this assessment, too, has partisan differences.) As extended unemployment benefits and other stimulus measures run out, these economists warn that we will see sharp increases in permanent layoffs, hunger and other impacts. One poll of employers suggests that half are planning further layoffs along with making temporary furloughs permanent, while over 200,000 jobs cuts have been recently announced by several prominent companies. Although evictions have been delayed by a recent CDC order, one estimate of the number of people at risk of eviction is 19 – 23 million. 
  1. The weather. As summer comes to a close and the fall approaches, some health experts expect the number of Covid-19 infections to spike; what some have referred to as a “second wave.” Beyond that, there is also the fear that flu season will compound the issues of the pandemic, in part because flu symptoms are similar to those of Covid-19.  
  1. The school season. Whether schools in your area are returning to in-person classes, going with remote learning or following a hybrid model, this is a dynamic situation that is likely to continue to evolve.  For areas that are planning on in-person classes, there is the risk that infection spread will force policy makers to rethink their choices and send students home. Whether they choose to remain with in-person classes or not, there will be public pressure from some residents to reverse that decision if infections spike.  Similarly, for areas that choose not to resume in-person classes, there will be pressure from other residents to re-open schools. 
  1. Advances in medicine. The enormous investments around the world made to combat the pandemic are beginning to bear fruit. There are promising advances in treatments and several potential vaccines that are going into clinical trials. Sadly, political polarization will impact this area as well, with criticisms – as we have seen – of new treatments, such as convalescent plasma. The same is likely to be true of vaccines, with some parties concerned about shortcuts in the approval process and others pushing for more rapid development and deployment. 

We think that all of these forces boil down to one major theme: a tremendous level of noise in the public space – on social media, in-person and in many other forums. This noise represents a challenge in itself, making it difficult for you to be effective with any messages you need to communicate to your citizens.  And it also represents a potential danger, as false information leads people to avoid protecting themselves, or worse, actively harming themselves or others. 

Given all of these challenges, what can you do?  Here are some thought starters, most of which you are hopefully already familiar with: 

  1. Communicate often. Give your residents monthly, weekly or even daily updates on the Covid-19 situation in your community and resources that can help them.  Make it clear that you’re a resource they can rely on. 
  2. Keep your messages short and simple. Clear, simple messages are better than detailed ones, even if you must sacrifice precision. Clarity is paramount. 
  3. Be transparent. Let citizens know where you are getting your information from so they can evaluate it for themselves. In a politically-polarized climate, being transparent is your best defense against claims of bias. If you’re concerned about the impact on being “short and simple” put your source information on a website. 
  4. Use all the tools. You have an enormous range of communication tools at your fingertips.  Social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Nextdoor and others let you communicate in the same places that your residents might otherwise find misinformation. Use your mass notification system, which – if it’s Hyper-Reach – will easily integrate with most social media outlets. You can also use press releases, your community website, blog posts and much more.  
  5. Get help. The CDC, WHO and others are offering many free resources to inform and shape your message. Here are some of our favorites:

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center

Google News Covid Information Center

MedPage Today Covid News

Contract tracing playbook

Are You Paying a Fair Price for Your ENS?

Have you ever wondered if you are paying a fair price for your Emergency Notification System or what a fair price would be? We have wondered the same thing, and we were curious to know what counties and cities across the US are paying on average for their Emergency Notification System. 

We recently analyzed several  databases we have access to (including data from cities and counties we’ve called on) and we discovered a lot of interesting information we wanted to share with you. We hope this helps you determine if you are paying a fair price for your Emergency Notification System and if there is an opportunity for you to save money. 

Here’s some of what we found:

  • Obviously, the cost increases as the number of people increases, so what you pay may be quite different than these averages.  (there’s a lot of difference in size between a county of, say, 100,000 and one with 500,000.) 
  • In addition, on a per-resident basis, the cost of a mass emergency notification system goes down as the population increases.  So a county of say 5 million people might only pay twice as much as one with 1 million people, even though there are five times as many people.

Something interesting we also found is that ENS costs differ from state to state. For instance, for populations of 50,000-100,000, Idaho and Ohio spend the least amount of money for their Emergency Notification Services: $5,850, and $9,528 respectively. New York and North Carolina pay the most with New York coming in at an average of $32,400 and North Carolina at $27,151.

You can check the average price of ENS services for your own state and population here (*Please note, we only analyzed states where we had enough data): https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1-PUKlkxKJFax7HUTgHXBGazOXztu-MNIFmXYRVkKC90/edit?usp=sharing

We know that the upcoming fiscal year is going to be very tough for local governments.  Forecasters predict budget cuts of up to 30% for many jurisdictions with some looking at even more significant cuts. But Hyper-Reach wants to help. Because we’re typically less expensive than our biggest competitors, we can probably offer you the same capabilities you have today, and save you as much as 30%.  

We’ve also created a new program we call the “Covid-19 Relief Package.” It offers a three-year contract with a deeply discounted rate in the first year to help you get through the fiscal crisis we’re all expecting as a result of the pandemic. 

Want to know more about our Covid-19 Relief Package?  Request our demo today.

2020 Atlantic Hurricane Season is Here!

As the 2020 Atlantic Hurricane season continues to grow at a record setting pace (an even higher rate than originally predicted by forecasters) Emergency Managers are critical to effective emergency communication. Experts are anticipating 25 named storms this season, according to the NOAA’s forecast, with almost half becoming hurricanes.

It’s crucial to get prepared as much as possible for the upcoming storms.

By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” ― Benjamin Franklin

Here are 5 hurricane preparation steps that Emergency Managers can take in advance to get ready for the season and communicate effectively during an emergency:

  1. Make sure you use all the tools available for delivering alerts to the public when the hurricane hits. Technology is improving quickly and there are more communication channels today than ever before. Relying primarily on one communication method is not a recommended strategy as people across the US consume content differently. For instance, older adults tend to rely more on older technology, such as landline phones, while a younger audience uses social media frequently.

The more communication channels you use, the better chance you will have to reach a larger audience. An effective solution is an  Emergency Notification System that lets you send out emergency alerts via multiple communication channels with just one click: landline phone calls, text messages, social media and email. This guarantees reaching as much of your community as possible.

Did you know that you can even send alerts over smart speakers now? Want to learn how? Click here for more information.

  1. Start preparing your community before the hurricane arrives. Those steps can include: sending updates on the hurricane status and what steps are being taken to protect those in the community, what steps experts recommend to take when the hurricane hits, engaging your audience to participate in discussion and posting updates on socials and your website. If your Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff’s Office or other offices that are responsible for sending out emergency alerts do not have a social media presence, it’s time to create them and encourage your residents to follow you for important updates and alerts. It’s also a great opportunity to remind people to sign up with your current Emergency Notification System if they yet haven’t done that and highlighting that they would have a better chance of receiving alerts and updates from you if they register. 
  1. Consider adding IPAWS – IPAWS technology lets you send severe emergency alerts to cell phones even if people are not signed up with your current Emergency Notifications system. It has become a powerful tool in delivering emergency alerts since more and more people rely on smartphones as a primary device of communication. Recent FEMA updates have made IPAWS messages an even more sophisticated tool. Now you can send up to 360-character messages, including links and pictures. Adding IPAWS to your Emergency Notification System can help fill in the gaps and reach even more people.
  1. Create message templates and focus more on dealing with an emergency during the storm. Templates will also help to eliminate ambiguity and errors , giving you more time to work on the correct formulation. Keep your templates simple and concise. Also, make sure your message is within the character limit. For example, Twitter messages length is up to 280 characters, IPAWS WEA messages – up to 360 characters, and SMS messages should not exceed 918 characters. It’s good to have these three types of message templates at your disposal:
    • Pre-storm templates – the purpose of this type of templates is to prepare your community for the hurricane. Send them updates of the hurricane status, provide advice on shelter in place and evacuation options etc.
    • Hurricane alert templates in the wake of the storm – just before a hurricane hits, you’ll need to send out the hurricane alert with an approximate time and area affected in the description.

Post-storm templates communicate on the recovery process. You may need to send out a “boil your water” or “blackout” alert as a consequence of the storm or inform people when they are safe to return to their home, etc.

5. Create an emergency plan for your staff. Identify who is responsible for what task and what role they will play. Arrange a staff meeting and share the plan. A detailed preparation plan will help you to eliminate confusion and react faster during a storm.

6. These sources provide useful information and will help you to stay updated: 

Effective emergency communication is about more than sharing accurate and timely information, it’s about helping your residents be ready to receive your information using their preferred communication method. The steps above will help to ensure that you are reaching a broad audience effectively. 

Help us help you and your peers: Let us know what your must-do hurricane preparation steps are in the comments below. We’ll be glad to share your best practices on our blog and social media.

Hyper-Reach Announces AlertSmart to Deliver Emergency Messages over Smart Speakers.

We’re excited to let you know about our newest feature, called AlertSmart™. AlertSmart gives you the ability to deliver emergency messages over Amazon Alexa devices and other Alexa-enabled smart speakers.

AlertSmart is the first and only service that lets local agencies send messages to Alexa-enabled devices. And it’s now available to you – at no added charge – when you use Hyper-Reach as your mass notification system. 

And that’s big news – because there are now more Amazon Alexa devices than home landlines. And because the people who buy smart speakers are younger and more tech-savvy, they’re also the kind of people who are least likely to have a home landline. So delivering messages to Alexa devices will fill a big gap in getting messages to the public. 

When you send out a message to an area and include the Alexa delivery option, all devices within the area you selected get notified. Most devices will flash a yellow light and play a notification tone when they get the alert. Your citizen then tells the device, “Alexa, open Hyper-Reach” (similar phrases will also work) and the unit plays the message. 

We’ve included a press release we sent out this week announcing AlertSmart, but to really appreciate the power of this new tool, we’d love to show it to you in action. So give us a call at 877-2-Notify (877-266-8439), send us a note at hr_info@hyper-reach.com or click the button below. We’ll get back to you ASAP. 

It’s Hurricane Season: Some Message Templates You Can Use

Hurricane season will soon be upon us. Here are some templates you can use as a starting point for the message you want to send. 

When sending emergency alerts, remember to follow these basic guidelines:

  • Describe the threat, its location and timing;
  • Tell people what you want them to do and when;
  • When possible, provide an expected time interval you expect the threat to last.

{storm name} is forecast to impact {community name} on {date}. Make arrangements now to prepare for storm damage, power outages, evacuation routes, etc. See {web page} for guidance.
 
{community name} is in the path of {storm name}. Be alert for emergency messages regarding evacuations, shelter locations and other information. For more go to {web page}.
 
Arrival of {storm name} to {community name} is expected by {storm date time}. Evacuation has been ordered for all residents, no later than {evac date time}. For more go to {web page}.
 
Arrival of {storm name} is expected by {storm date time}. Evacuation order is in effect. If you require assistance to evacuate, call {phone number] immediately. Or go to {web page}.
 
Arrival of {storm name} to {Community name} is imminent. Shelter-in-place is now in effect for all residents who have not evacuated. If needed you can find shelter locations at {web page}.
 
For the latest updates on {storm name}, go to: {web page}.
 
Recovery assistance is available for property damaged from {storm name}. Go to {web page} or call {phone number} for more information.

IPAWS Comes to the Hyper-Reach Mobile App

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Using IPAWS for Mass Notification

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

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

If you’re not already an authorized Alerting Authority and want more information, you can reach us at 877-912-7437 ext. 3, or fill out the form here

Use Event Notification for Group Meetings

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

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

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

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