Recently, Emergency Management Magazine posted an article on failures of telephonic alert notifications (http://www.emergencymgmt.com/disaster/Do-Alert-Notifications-Fail-Expectations.html). The article certainly exposes some of the limitations of these systems as well as the reasons why these limitations exist. One significant reason is that these systems typically require cell phone users to subscribe (yep… one more thing we need to ask the public to do in an effort for them to be responsible for their own well-being). Those of you reading this who are in Emergency Management know that it’s very difficult to motivate the general public to do these types of things. Yes, subscription can be circumvented by forced cell bursts, whereas public safety pushes messages out to all cell users within the range of a given tower(s). This, though, by FCC regulation, is only to be done in the event of extreme emergency.
So what do we do? First, we need to continue marketing these alerting programs. The Feds have put one together they are hoping to implement nationally, many states have them, some cities have them, college campuses have them, even some businesses have them. They have a huge value – particularly the ones that are customizable by the end-user and multi-modal (voice, text, e-mail, fax, etc.). Just an hour and a half ago I received an alert by text and e-mail about a magnitude 2.5 earthquake in Canada on the Quebec-Ontario border. Likewise, I receive them about local road closures and severe weather. I market our local alert system as much as possible – I’ve even obtained hundreds of flyers from the state’s emergency management agency on the program so I can distribute them when I have speaking engagements and attend community events. The technology is wonderful and it will continue evolving – both from the programming side that initiates the alert as well as the ability of our infrastructure to handle mass notifications.
The article, however, seems to not mention the integration of other modes of communication to the public. This is absolutely vital! You can never rely on only one mode. Certainly EAS, pushed through radio and TV, is extremely valuable and effective. But we also need to consider using sirens and even personnel driving through neighborhoods in vehicles providing information by way of loud-speaker. There is always a chance that you won’t reach someone, but you have to cover as many modes as practical given the importance of the information that must get out.