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Ask Don!

We’ve had back-to-back winter storms and worry our residents are getting complacent when it comes to receiving emergency notifications from us. Any suggestions on how to emphasize the importance of the messages and to help communicate the value of the information we’re sharing?

Don Hall, ECN's Director of Government Relations
Don Hall, ECN’s Director of Government Relations

When determining to use the public mass notification system it is helpful to ask a few of the following questions: Is this enough information? How much is too much? Will they start to become complacent with too much usage? Will we help to save lives and protect property with this message? These are all very good things to consider when making the decision to activate a call or a follow-up message.

Through our client outreach efforts, we discovered that the public tolerance and mind set surrounding government notifications vary from community to community across the U.S. Generally speaking, public safety officials should be able to gauge their community’s temperament in this regard and act accordingly. I do have a few message creation suggestions that might help you with your public notification efforts.

The first suggestion is to use the geographical mapping tool to narrowly define your calling area whenever possible. For example, if issuing a flood notice, try to avoid sending the call out to your entire community if not everyone is affected by the flooding. Target your efforts so that citizens who aren’t in the danger area will not receive calls they would perceive as uninformative. You can use the same geographically defined area to send out any follow-up messages or “all clear” notices. Once again, make sure the message is only sent to those who are affected. The geographical region to target will vary with the nature of your emergency, but nonetheless, one to consider each time. Utilizing the geographical mapping tool each time an alert is issued, will show your community that you will only be notifying them if an emergency truly threatens them.

The second suggestion is to always use an influential member of your community, who is easily recognized by citizens to record the voice delivered message. This could be the highest elected official, Fire Chief, Police Chief or Emergency Manager. The attention of your citizens will be easier to capture if you use one of these authority figures because they are recognizable, will provide credibility to the call and will be respected by the residents.

The content of the message is also very important. Even if the selected public safety official will be recording the message for the call, you will want to write the script for him or her to read. This will ensure that all of the important information is covered in the message. There are six main components to creating an effective and credible emergency message. They are:

  1. Identify the caller and agency
  2. Provide the date and time
  3. Identify the hazard/threat/incident
  4. Identify the area affected
  5. Provide the action measures to be taken
  6. Detail directions for more information and/or announce a follow-up call will be made

Including too much information in the call will lose the call recipient’s attention but too little information will not prove beneficial. As a rule of thumb, we recommend your emergency call consist of a 30-45 second message whenever possible. Our call statistic records show us that after 45 seconds, the line drop-off rate increases exponentially. A well-crafted message can include a lot of valuable information and still fit the 30-45 second timeframe. Also, if you have an additional secondary language that is largely present in your community, consider recording the message in that language as an option for the recipients.

Collectively speaking, if you use a well-known authority figure for the recorded message, draft an effective 30-45 second message and issue alerts only to the areas that will be affected by the threat, you will be well on your way to enhancing the effectiveness of your mass notification system within your community. We recommend you inform your public, promoting the use of the community’s mass notification system as well as encouraging them to enroll and update their current contact information. The more your citizens know about the system and its intended use, the better they will accept its use on disaster day.

Thanks for the great question!


ECN opened up the opportunity for you to connect with Don Hall. Hall has spent more than 40 years in public safety so his emergency management experience makes him ideal for helping our current clients, potential customers and the emergency management community to interact with regarding the need and use of mass notification systems for state and local governments.

This platform was created to make your questions for Hall, heard. If you have anything you would like to ask him, please click here to email your question and he will address your question directly, right here in our “Ask Don” blog.