The demographics of “wireless only” and its impacts

The wildfires in Colorado provide a good opportunity to discuss how demographics shape the impact of the trend to “wireless only” on emergency notification systems.

Although we haven’t studied the geography in great detail, based on photos and news reports, the homes involved this tragedy are single family dwellings, many of them are upscale and many are also second homes.  That means the people affected are probably going to be mostly older, higher income, higher education, white, and families with children.

Or, from another perspective, the people least likely to be “wireless only”.

Although the shift away from landlines is affecting every demographic the CDC tracks, upper income, older families in owned homes are at least twice as likely to have a landline at home as other folks.  So it’s likely that the incidence of “wireless only” among the homes affected by these wildfires half what it is for the average population.  Based on our estimate that Jefferson County, CO is 49% wireless-only, about 75% of the affected homes still have landlines.

What this means is that emergency notification systems will still do well in situations like this.  But it also suggests that we cannot assume they will do as well in areas with younger people who are renters.  So an emergency message sent to a high-density area in Denver warning of a toxic chemical spill or an active shooter will reach a much smaller percentage of the population than a message sent to an older, more suburban or rural area.

If you want help understanding how demographics might affect your community’s emergency notification system, just ask.  Send us an email at  We’ve got lots of data we’d love to share.