Seriously? Why An App-Only Approach to Emergency Notification Doesn’t Work

We just read a news story that’s completely misleading and wanted to throw in our 2 cents.

It seems a number of local governments have signed up for an emergency notification provider that works through a smartphone app (iOS and Android).  And the news items suggest that these governments have chosen this as an alternative to the so-called “reverse 911” systems (outbound calls for notification).

Let’s go through the numbers and see if that works:

  • At last check about 92% of US adults have mobile phones;
  • 53% of those have smart phones (this number will go up over time);
  • While it’s impossible to say how many folks will download a specific app, over 60% of Apple apps have never been downloaded even once;
  • Of the apps that are downloaded, emergency notification doesn’t even make the top
  • In most communities, less than 10% (really, it’s closer to 2%) sign up for emergency alerts;

So – using some optimistic assumptions – if 20% of smartphone users in a community download the notification app, alerts sent through that app will reach less than 10% of the community.  And 20% is a stretch.

The point is not that an emergency notification app is a bad idea.  It’s a very good idea.  So good, we’ve developed our own.

But an app alone is not going to reach most of the community.

A truly comprehensive emergency notification approach needs to be able to broadcast messages via phone, text, email, IPAWS (Wireless Emergency Alerts), SMS and apps.  And it’s critical to promote these tools to the community to reach people who would not otherwise download an app or register for alerts.

And TV and radio, etc. (even sirens in some locales) all have a part.

Apps are good, but they one part of a much larger picture.