Seven Keys to Citizen Engagement

get citizens signed up for alerts

We’re developing a turnkey marketing plan that can empower communities to get their citizens signed up for emergency alerts and community notifications. So we’ve been working with a handful of public agency clients to see how the plan works in real life. The results are exciting, so we wanted to summarize seven key opportunities to get the maximum number of your citizens signed up. Even if you use another service, you can use most of these ideas:

1.Push notification, Alexa, and more.

Hyper-Reach has the most ways of any mass notification service to get citizens signed up, and you should use them all.  But we want to focus on two here:

First, you should put a push notification request right on your homepage, as well as any other webpages you think appropriate. If you do it with us, we can then deliver browser-based alerts to every citizen who accepts them. Iif you’re not a Hyper-Reach customer, you can at least use them to push your website visitors to your alert signup page.

Second, you should promote alerts on Alexa. (Sorry if you use another alert provider, this isn’t an option right now.)  Folks with Alexa units (90+ million in the US) just need to say “Alex, enable Hyper-Reach” to start getting alerts on their Alexa-enabled devices.

2. Web page invite: get it right!

Every major provider has a web-based registration form for mass notification, but many communities hide the link or make it difficult for citizens to find. Get a highly visible button with a clear Call To Action and put it where your website visitors will see it.

You can also leverage what internet marketers have been doing for years and use SEO (search engine optimization) tricks and local publicity to help Google, Bing, etc. point citizens to your sign up page links. It’s not hard to do and will make it much easier for citizens to find you.

3. Email

Your city or county has the email addresses of their employees and possibly more. Every one of those people have the email addresses of friends and family in the area. Why not send an email to the folks you can reach easily and ask them to forward your invitation to sign up for your mass public alert system?

You might even try to get the school system to help, since they have the email addresses of teachers at a minimum, and possibly parents. Many school systems have their own mass notification system, which means they’ll appreciate the value of yours, but also means you’ll need to distinguish what you’re offering from the schools’.

You can take this same idea to local organizations and businesses who have their own email lists and recruit them to do the same. After all, they have an interest in the safety of their members and employees.

4. Leverage social media

You probably have a Facebook page and maybe even a Twitter account. Hopefully, you’re using that to promote your enrollment form for your public notification system. But why stop there? There are all kinds of groups in your community with their own Facebook pages and many of them will be willing to post your message to get their members signed up.

And while you’re at it, get yourself a Nextdoor public agency account and promote the signup page there.

5. Flyers and handouts

There are lots of places you can post a handout, flyer or other kind of promotional material. Libraries, senior centers, coffee shops, and restaurants are just a few examples. If you’re a Hyper-Reach customer, we can customize some materials for you from our extensive library of templates.  Just ask!

6. Local real estate

Getting people to sign up for emergency notifications when they first move in seems natural. See if your local landlords and realtors are willing to hand a sign up form to folks who are moving in.

And reach out to homeowners associations and neighborhood groups who may have an email list, bulletin board, newsletter, etc.

7. Your Hyper-Reach system (or a different system, if you have one.)

Using your existing mass notification system is a great way to promote registrations. Your message can suggest that people sign up their cell phone, update their information, and encourage their friends and family to sign up too.  We suggest publicizing this campaign ahead of time and sending your message when it’s least likely to be considered an intrusion.

Obviously, there’s a lot here. To give you an idea of how much, the most recent plan we’ve put together for one of our agency customers is 154 pages long and still growing. But you don’t have to do it all and you don’t need to do it all at once. Get started with the basics and do a little each week. And if you’re a Hyper-Reach customer and want us to help, let us know. Our plan is to help everyone of you get as many citizens as possible enrolled in this vital service.


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AlertSmart(tm) Means Accessible Alerts for the Blind and Visually Disabled

We’ve been talking about AlertSmart™ for weeks now. AlertSmart is our new process for delivering mass notification and emergency alerts through Alexa-enabled smart speakers. And it’s a big deal, because smart speakers will be a powerful way for people to communicate in a few short years.  

Thanks to Hyper-Reach, smart speakers can be a powerful way for public safety and emergency managers to communicate to the public today. That’s because there are now more smart speakers in the US than home landlines. And getting your residents to turn on AlertSmart for their Alexa units is as simple as saying, “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach.”

But there’s an added benefit to AlertSmart: providing access to emergency alerts for the blind. 

Because AlertSmart can help you deliver emergency alerts and mass notification services to the blind (and the deaf, actually, but that’s another story.) And that can be useful for meeting the requirements of grants, federal and state laws and your own sense of obligation to all your citizens. 

Smart speakers are game-changing technology for the blind community. They provide accessibility by voice and sound and make tasks much easier than previous technologies could.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Easy access to news/information, websites and searches
  • Time and list management
  • Making home automation and security easier
  • Controlling appliances, thermostats and other home devices
  • Access to audiobooks and music
  • Finding and using recipes
  • Providing fashion assistance (with a camera-enabled device, such as the Echo Show)
  • Reading pill bottles, recipes and other written material (requires camera-enabled device)
  • Communicating, either by phone or text (“Alexa, call Mom.”) and even playing games. 

As one Alexa user reported to Amazon: “I am totally blind, so being able to tell Alexa what to do is wonderful. I like the fact, we can get videos, tv shows, music, etc. for us to listen to.”

While no one appears to know exactly how many of the blind have smart speakers, there are clues from other sources. One publication estimates that 95% of blind people have a smartphone, suggesting that the blind can be avid technology adopters. A recent study by Strategy Analytics says “smart home devices such as smart speakers were used by the vast majority of the blind or visually impaired participants in our research.” Every publication dedicated to the blind seems to have articles on smart speakers. And the National Federation for the Blind has created special services to be delivered over Alexa units.

And Amazon Alexa devices seem to be the smart speaker of choice for the blind. A CBC radio report says “Amazon Echo seems to be coming out on top…among the blind community.” And Martin Ralfe, of UK’s Guide Dogs for the Blind Association, describes the Amazon Echo as “the most successful product on the planet” for accessibility for the blind. 

The bottom line here is that delivering emergency alerts through Alexa and other smart speakers is an effective way to provide an additional level of meaningful access to the blind. And that’s important for emergency managers and public safety officials who have both a moral obligation to serve all of their citizens and potential legal obligations to provide access, such as Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, Section 308 of the Stafford Act and related federal and state regulations. 

So if you’re an existing Hyper-Reach customer, ask us how AlertSmart can help you deliver emergency alerts to all your citizens. And if you’re not using Hyper-Reach, find out how we can help you.

Help Your Community and Save Money Without Compromise

It’s no secret that many state and local budgets are getting hammered by Covid-19 and its aftereffects. Most states are suffering revenue cuts of 1% to 10% or more. According to the Wall Street Journal: “Policy analysts estimate state and local revenue losses due to the coronavirus pandemic will total about $300 billion through fiscal year 2022, though that doesn’t include rising expenses.”  And those “rising expenses” can be significant, including mitigation efforts associated with Covid, such as ventilation systems, sanitizing protocols, etc.

So most agencies within state and local governments are, or should be, under considerable budget pressure. Which drives many of them to look for savings, even if it’s not their budget on the chopping block. After all, if an agency can find savings for their community – savings that don’t sacrifice their mission or important functionality – why wouldn’t they act on that?

Which takes us to our favorite topic: mass notification services. Because if you’re using one of our major competitors, such as Everbridge or Onsolve (aka CodeRed), Hyper-Reach can save you big money. And while you might worry that switching to a lower cost service could lose you functionality, reliability or something else, the reality is that Hyper-Reach probably provides everything you care about, and gives you added features you can’t get from our competitors. 

Much of what local governments spend on mass notification is public record, so we can say with confidence that switching to Hyper-Reach is likely to save you real money. And if it doesn’t save you money, switching will probably still get you more for your money. 

How much can we save you? That depends on the size of your community and which company you’re using. But based on our research, the average cost of emergency alert systems across the US is about $0.45 per person. So an average county would spend about $46,000 a year on an emergency alert system, while an average municipality would spend about $7,600.  And we can save that average county more than $11,000 and the average town about $2,000.  

And because of the way that many mass notification companies price their services, we might save you a lot more than that. Because you could be paying a lot more than the average. Our analysis shows that some communities are paying much more per capita than their neighboring counties or cities. 

Even if we can’t save you total dollars, you could be getting much more from Hyper-Reach than your current provider. For example, most emergency notification providers charge extra for automated weather alerts; we include them standard. We also include IPAWS, unlimited social media feeds, unlimited administrative users and other features at no additional charge. 

And we have features that no one else provides. Our latest is AlertSmart™, the only emergency alert system that delivers notifications through Amazon Alexa devices. 

We’re also the mass notification system that’s most focused on helping you reach the mass of your citizens. Which is why we offer more ways to register than any other company, and more help in getting your residents to sign up. Which is why we’ve hit registration levels in some communities of up to 30%, while most of our competitors are lucky to reach 10%.

How well do we deliver on all of these claims? There’s only one way to find out: schedule an online demonstration and see for yourself.

A Deep Freeze Leads to Warm Feelings for Hyper-Reach

One of the more recent communities to choose Hyper-Reach for critical event management is Allen, Texas, a city of more than 100,000 people about 25 miles northeast of Dallas. 

Allen is a booming community. From its start in 1876, its population stayed in the hundreds into the 1950’s, then exploded in the last few decades. Among the many things Allen is known for is the largest football stadium in the US built for a single high school – a $60 million, 18,000 seat capacity facility where the Allen Eagles are undefeated. It’s also the location of the first train robbery in Texas.

Like the rest of Texas, Allen was hammered with bitter cold and snow in mid-February, shutting off the power, setting off fire alarms, and forcing city offices to close. City services, such as trash collection, were interrupted. And the 911 center was flooded with calls about lost power. The city opened shelters from the cold and had to keep citizens informed of evolving issues and progress in resolving them.  

Fortunately, the city had selected Hyper-Reach for mass emergency notification services just a few months earlier, allowing it to keep employees and citizens informed.  

But to send messages out – especially for internal communication – the communications department first had to create contact groups to send the right message to the right people. And because the system was new, it was still a little unfamiliar. 

“Hyper-Reach’s customer service was incredibly responsive”, said Shellie Taylor, Communications Manager. “Our contact person, Chris, made herself available several times a day and even after hours, to make sure we knew what we were doing. Her support was both phenomenal and reassuring.

“And the system itself was simple to use.  It was super easy to import information. On the first day, we created 45 separate groups in about an hour and a half.”

Deputy Chief Ken Myers, credits the system with being much more efficient and effective than prior communication methods.

“In the past, we’ve used calling trees, but with Hyper-Reach, we could let one individual send out mass messages quickly by email, text, home phone and cell phones. Which meant we were able to get the word out much more quickly than before.”

Taylor agrees: “Hyper-Reach has genuinely been extremely helpful and given us the ability to make notifications that we could not have done before.” 

“We have heard over-and-over both internally and from residents how great the communications have been during our snow event. We could not have done it without you!” said Myers.

February’s crazy weather is just the beginning of how Hyper-Reach will help the city of Allen. 

“When we were first looking at the system, said Myers, “we were trying to resolve a specific dispatch issue. But when we saw everything it could do, it was clear that it could do everything we needed and more.”

“Once we saw what Hyper-Reach was capable of, it seemed perfect for city-wide use.  So we got other departments to look at it, including the city managers. As soon as they saw it, almost everyone was in favor of getting it.”

“We’re finding more and more reasons to use it,” continued Myers. “And we really like the event notification feature. That’s going to be very helpful for events later in the year, like our big fireworks show.”

We’re gratified to be able to help the City of Allen and its citizens. And we’re grateful that we can deliver superior service for communities like Allen. 

As Ken Myers said: “We are so glad we made the right choice by going with Hyper-Reach and just wanted to let you know.”

Hyper-Reach Brings IPAWS to Mobile Devices

If you haven’t tried our Launch app, you need to check it out.  We’ve gotten rave reviews from customers and prospects who have told us repeatedly and resoundingly these three things:

  1. It’s amazingly easy to use. 
  2. It does almost everything they need, and better than our competitors.
  3. It needs to have IPAWS. 

As you know, IPAWS is FEMA’s network for sending messages to all kinds of outlets – broadcasters, digital signage, Council of Governments, and importantly, cell phones, via the WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts) service. 

And because IPAWS has so many outlets to send messages through and rules about which messages can go where and the information required for those messages, it makes for a busy and complicated menu screen.  Which makes it very challenging to fit IPAWS messaging on a smartphone screen. But we did it anyway. 

And if you look at our screen design, you’ll see that we’ve worked really hard on ease of use while keeping all the critical components of IPAWS, including EAS and the Public feed, the new testing functionality, Spanish translation and support for 360 character messages for WEA. That’s because we designed it specifically for a smartphone screen, instead of depending on “mobile responsive” or “mobile aware” technology. Because mobile responsiveness can’t simplify a screen that’s full of all the detailed stuff IPAWS normally involves. 

As far as we know, we’re the only mass notification provider that’s supporting IPAWS messaging on a native app. And that’s one more step to making a mobile app the only tool you need for mass notification. 

So if you haven’t checked out the Hyper-Reach Launch app, you really need to. We’re sure you’ll be very impressed.

Using your emergency alert system to help manage Covid

We’ve seen a big increase in usage of the Hyper-Reach system since the Covid crisis began.  And while Covid is a terrible thing, we’re grateful that we’ve been able to help our customers to get information out quickly and easily. But not all customers are using the system in the same way, which makes us think it would be useful to list some of the ways agencies are using the system, in case they can inspire some new uses.

Based on the kinds of messages people are sending out, we’ve come up with this partial list of use cases: 

  1. Coordinating staff. You can use Hyper-Reach to inform staff about new developments, organize meetings, send out meeting notes (with our image attachment feature), schedule reminders and much, much more. And with our custom filtering capability, you can designate people as having specific roles, skills, etc. to make quick custom contact lists, even if those roles and skills are useful just for the duration of the crisis. 
  2. Getting status updates from staff. You can quickly send out survey questions to staff and compile their responses all within Hyper-Reach. For example, you could poll workers at vaccination sites to see if they have enough personnel, supplies, etc. and get answers in just a few minutes. 
  3. Sending status updates to the public. Many people are anxious about when vaccines will be available and Hyper-Reach is a perfect way to send out updates on this and other important topics. Double-masking, for example, is a great new topic where you can send out the latest recommendations and research. 
  4. Scheduling last minute vaccination appointments. We’ve seen hundreds of stories about last-minute opportunities to get people vaccinated and the challenges of scheduling people with just a few hours notice. For example, let’s say you have a last-minute opening to give 50 people a shot that day. With our two-way messaging and quota settings you can have Hyper-Reach start calling a wait list of hundreds of people, asking if they can make it to the vaccination location in the next few hours. Then, once you’ve reached your 50 person quota, the system automatically stops calling.
  5. And remember our “text to sign up” feature, where a citizen needs only to text a specific phrase – for example, “CovidUpdates” – to our signup number to subscribe to a special interest list and get information specific to that topic. 

With so many possible uses, it’s important to note that this is the perfect time to encourage citizens to register for emergency alerts – both on our standard web form and on any special interest lists you want to create.  So we’ve created some templates for press releases, social media posts (Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and email messages you can modify and use to promote signups in your community. 

Let us know if you have any suggestions about how to use your emergency notification system or get folks signed up.  We’re always looking for new ideas we can share.

Smart speakers and emergency management: the present and the future

Smart speakers have exploded on the scene over the last few years, the most notable of which is commonly addressed as “Alexa”, from Amazon. 

Although most people use them as fancy radios, they’re actually capable of an enormous range of tasks, from turning on your lights to controlling your microwave. 

And smart speakers have important implications for emergency managers and other public safety officials. One of those is AlertSmart™, the newest feature of the Hyper-Reach emergency notification system. AlertSmart allows emergency managers to deliver mass notifications over Alexa-enabled smart speakers, tapping into the roughly 90 million households who have one or more of these devices. 

That 90 million figure, by the way, will grow dramatically over time. Alexa and its competitors are being built into cars, thermostats, home security, and even lawn watering systems. 

We think that smart speakers offer an important advance for mass notification systems. But we also think that they have other promising applications for emergency managers, with many uses for collecting and distributing information, taking 911 calls, finding people who need help and more. They could even be used for turning on and off local resources, such as fire suppression systems. 

We’ve written a white paper that goes into all of this in a lot more depth.  And you can get that here.

Best Practices in Using Your Web-Registration Form for Emergency Alerts

We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our emergency alert sign up form as easy-to-use and effective as it can be. That’s because it’s getting to the point where “sign ups” are going to be the only way to reach the public (unless you’re sending an IPAWS message, but that’s a future article.) 

We put “sign ups” in quotation marks because Hyper-Reach offers much more than a web form to get the public signed up. These days, we’re also using SMS, browser push notification, app downloads and smart speakers (Alexa) to reach the public, and each one of those has its own method for getting people “signed up.”  And we go beyond a web form, with interactive voice response, paper forms and more.  Today, let’s just focus on the web form. 

Every emergency notification provider offers their own form, but some of those forms need some serious work. A few don’t render well on a smartphone, which is tragic, since about 70% of internet access is on mobile devices. Some of them require creating a separate account – and sometimes before you even get their contact information. Most of them require a separate username and password and some won’t work unless the citizen verifies their registration with another step, like clicking a link in an email. And a few even require multiple forms (one vendor actually makes you go through four separate forms to complete the process.)

If your vendor makes the mistakes above, we suggest telling them to change. Your objective should be to make signing up as easy and error-free as possible and to treat other issues as secondary. (Why worry about bogus signups when you can barely get 5% of your residents to register?)

Here are some of the ways we simplify our form.  (1) keep it to one page; (2) minimize the questions; (3) adapt well on a smartphone; (4) no password required – either use Facebook, Twitter or Google to login or don’t even require an account; and (5) no confirmation required to finish the process.  

Regardless of which signup form your vendor uses, here are 5 ways to make it more effective:

  1. Put it on your community homepage. We know lots of folks who put the link to their form on their department webpage (e.g. EMA, sheriff or 911.)  While it’s great to have it there, your page doesn’t get nearly the traffic the county or city homepage does. 
  2. Get a URL shortener. Most of the links provided by alert system vendors are 30-40 characters long and just a string of unreadable letters and numbers. No one’s going to type that in. But with a service like bit.ly or tinyURL you can create a readable link – for free – that people might actually find. 
  3. Use a QR code. For flyers, postcards, or any other printed material, use a QR code – in addition to your shortened URL – to make it easy for citizens to get to your form. They can scan the code or type in the shortened URL and get onto your form in seconds. 
  4. Put it on social media. You should post your signup link on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and – especially – Nextdoor. If you don’t have a Public Agencies account for Nextdoor, you should probably get one. With some social media (Facebook), you can pin the post with the signup form at the top of your newsfeed. With others, plan on posting it regularly. (With Hyper-Reach, you can create a recurring message to post once a week, month, etc.)  And if your community has multiple Facebook, Twitter, etc. accounts, don’t leave any of them out. Don’t just use your department’s social media accounts if you can get help from others. 
  5. Send it as an email blast to city/county employees. See if your human resources or IT department is willing to send the link out to all of the community’s employees. If they are, here’s an email template you can use as the basis for the email you send. 

We’ve got lots of ways to help you get more people signed up and we’re finally putting those together in a marketing guide. Once that’s done, we’ll send it to you for free – even if you’re using a different system from Hyper-Reach.

Landlines Continue to Shrink: What’s Your Plan?

Landline phones keep losing their relevance in the United States. You know this, of course, but we like to keep track of the trend.  

The federal government does a massive study twice a year that includes this issue. The latest available data shows that in 2019 about 60% or 151 million people live in “wireless only” households.  There’s been a 12% drop in landline phones for the past five years (51.6% in 2014 vs. 39.7% in 2019). At that rate it will only take about 16 years for landline phones to be a technological relic. 

https://www.statista.com/chart/2072/landline-phones-in-the-united-states/

Younger people are especially likely to be “wireless only”. In 2019 four in five adults aged 25-34 were wireless-only while only about a third of those 65 and over were.

The trend away from landline phones makes 911 listings less and less relevant. And we’re sure the trend will only accelerate. Which is why it’s so important to get people to sign up for emergency alerts. Unfortunately, the average sign-up rate across the country is less than 10%. 

That’s why Hyper-Reach is continuously developing new ways of getting people signed up. And because younger people are more likely to use technology, we’ve focused on ways to enroll people while adapting to the preferences of different age groups. With Hyper-Reach, your citizens can sign up for alerts by:

  • Texting a message;
  • Making a phone call and speaking (works well for older people);
  • Clicking once on their browser. Just get folks to visit your website. Put the one-click process on any website you control, and offer citizens a method that is up to 700% more effective than a standard form;
  • Saying “Alexa, enable Hyper-Reach”. More than 60 million households have Alexa units, more than have landlines.  So we’ve created a smart speaker “skill” to deliver alerts.  
  • Filling out a web form. And we’ve simplified and optimized our form to get the highest sign up rates. (see the article below for more detail.)

In addition, we’ll help you get your citizens signed up, with marketing assistance: press releases, email templates, social media ads, handouts, and more. Which is why we’ve got customers with up to 30% of their citizens signed up for alerts.  

To find out all the ways we can help you reach your community, request our demo now.

Using Your Emergency Alert System to Manage Vaccine Distribution

The vaccines are coming!

You already know this, of course, and chances are you’ve been involved with planning the first wave of distribution and how to get the word out on future vaccine distribution in your community.  And hopefully, you’ve used, or are planning to use your Hyper-Reach or other mass notification system to help keep the public and other key constituencies aware of expectations and plans in your area. 

There’s a lot of communicating to do. Mass notification can help you: (a) set folks’ expectations for when vaccines will be available to which groups, (b) point them to sources such as vaccinefinder and the CDC, (c) remind people to get their second dose, when applicable, (d) counter misinformation, (e) tell people where mobile vaccine centers are located on which days, and (f) remind them to report side effects.

Here are some ideas you may not have thought of:

  1. Use the vaccine situation to help build community sign ups.  

As the adage goes: “never let a crisis go to waste.” If you’re going to send alerts regarding ANY aspect of vaccine distribution, let your citizens know to sign up for the updates you can provide. We’ve drafted a press release you can adapt to your own situation here.  Feel free to change it and use it as you see fit. In addition to sending it to your local news media, you can post it to Facebook and other social media, use it as an email blast (even using the Hyper-Reach system), or put it in your blog, if you have one.  We’ve included variations on the press release to help you do that too. 

2. Create special interest groups and lists. 

One of the great features of Hyper-Reach is the ability to create special purpose lists and make it easy for people to sign up for them.  We actually do that in two ways:

a) Text messaging. By creating a special code, such as “CovidVaccine” and using it with a text number, you can let citizens sign up for a list just by texting the code to the number. To illustrate, we’ve created another press release and media post you can use to promote this service here.

b) Dynamic lists. Because Hyper-Reach supports dynamic lists with customizable attributes (also known as fields), you can create special purpose dynamic lists that give you the information you need to know who within the list to send messages to when the time is right. 

3. Let people know how it’s going.

One powerful way to get others to do what you want them to is to show them that others like them are doing the same thing. You can start by letting folks know how many people in your county or city have gotten immunized.  If you have specific populations you want to address (black or hispanic people, for example), make a point of highlighting others who belong to those populations who are getting shots. 

4. Make it sound a little challenging. 

As counterintuitive as it might seem, the perception of inconvenience can improve your results, because people perceive your demand as higher if they have to work harder to get what you’re offering. If you’ve ever seen an ad on TV that says “if operators are busy, please try again,” that’s the reason why. And with the vaccine in limited supply for many months, this won’t be hard to do. 

Got any other ideas? This is a team effort, and we’ll publish any great ideas we find to share them as broadly as possible. So if you’ve got suggestions about how your notification system can help in this important effort, we’d love to help get the word out. Just drop a line to jveilleux@ashergroup.com.

At Hyper-Reach, we offer a range of solutions including critical event management systems and emergency mass notification systems.