We were saddened to see the news of a teenager killed in a drive-by shooting last week. Since we don’t know the detailed circumstances of that tragedy, this article is not a commentary on the specific incident, although it is inspired by this story and we’ll use some of the specifics to illustrate the points we want to make.
According to news reports, the local sheriff’s office made Emergency Notification calls to about 4,000 numbers in the area, asking residents to report any helpful information for the investigation. This particular county is about 36% “wireless only” with no landline at home, according to our estimates, so we’d guess that their target area has about 6,000 households and the the ENS calls would have missed about 2,000 potential homes they would otherwise have liked to call. That’s assuming they are calling their ALI database of landline telephones. (We looked up their emergency notification sign-up page and it wasn’t clear to us, but again, we’re trying to generalize and the specifics are not too important.)
Because the victim was a teenager, the reach of an ENS system would be a little better, since the parents would be a little older. But even 45-55 year olds are switching to “wireless only”. So that 36% might really be closer to 25 – 30%. That’s still a lot of potential witnesses.
And if the victim had been a young adult, say someone in their 20’s, the percentage of “wireless only” would be much higher. As high as 60% – 70% in some parts of the US.
So the reach – and therefore the effectiveness – of so called “reverse 911” systems varies a lot by demographics. And the impact is just going to get bigger. By 2015, over half the country will have no landline.
And the circumstances here do not lend themselves to a Wireless Emergency Alert.