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:

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.


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