Enhanced mass notification tools: Alert visitors, vacationers, and transient travelers

highwaterAs a former Emergency Manager, I recently read a news article with great interest regarding lessons learned following a major flood event in the South Central region that led to the loss of several precious lives. The article referenced that the emergency notifications deployed by the local jurisdiction were effective in reaching residents listed in the local calling data base and via local television.

However, the article continued on to suggest that the notification process used during this emergency event should have incorporated additional notification tools specifically focused on alerting local visitors, vacationers, and transient travelers driving through the area via wireless devices. In today’s technological age where we are on the move more than ever, this is an area of great importance that everyone should focus on improving.

Please note as I begin to dissect the events that occurred to the best of my knowledge, that this submission is merely my own personal thoughts, and I am in no way attempting to place judgment on the actions taken by local public safety officials during this event.  I’d like to point out that the article does not reflect any information related to the event from the local officials’ standpoint. For all we know, they could have issued numerous adequate notifications utilizing their current capabilities. But to the naïve individual, it would seem that this jurisdiction (along with others across the country that experience similar events) may want to explore additional outreach components to reach wireless/smartphone users.

As a former professional within the same field, tasked with improving citizen safety, I can certainly relate to the post-incident interrogation that always arises following a tragic event. Individuals are always asked, “Did the actions you take reflect your existing capabilities?” Naturally, following every emergency scenario that I led, I was always able to identify something that I could have done differently. However, early on in my career, I was fortunate enough to realize that my emergency alert and notification system was one of the most important resources I had access to, and one that could make my public safety career a successful one—I just needed to rely on it more often and leverage its full capabilities as I went through each disaster.

So, what does this mean for you?  If nothing else, hopefully you will put forth a concerted effort to explore your own alert and notification procedures and capabilities, making the needed changes that will enhance your public alert and life safety notification endeavors for the future. Put those lessons learned to work for you and use your system to its fullest capacity. When looking to improve your processes, consider these factors:

  • Find out if you have a mobile app that allows residents, visitors, and transitory individuals passing through the area to receive safety warnings.
  • Determine if you can launch from the road via a smart device, in case you aren’t behind your desktop computer when an incident occurs.
  • Discover what your service provider can do to assist you. When you are busy responding to a crisis, can they assist you with disseminating alerts on your behalf?

These are things you should know so you are better prepared when you need to alert, inform, and affect lives. Also as a matter of preparedness, you should be constantly reviewing and updating your emergency planning and response tools, of which your mass notification system should be included.

So, does CodeRED have a solution to reach smart devices?          

The answer is YES, we do.  Every CodeRED client has the access and ability to launch the same emergency alerts you send to your public phone data base, to the CodeRED Emergency Mobile Alert App. This is a standard product feature within CodeRED and one that will assist you with reaching not only your residents, but also those visitors, vacationers, and transient travelers passing through the area. This app is downloaded by thousands of citizens from across the U.S. to receive emergency alerts, regardless of where they live and travel. The app alerts them, using the device’s GPS, when they are physically located within the defined area of a CodeRED emergency alert launched by any of our clients.

Unfortunately, some of our clients have yet to realize the outreach power of the CodeRED Mobile Alert App, and overlook this additional reach when alerting the public. A recent article in Fox News states, “Sixty-five percent of smartphone owners are interested in an emergency app that would alert them in a crisis or disaster and provide verified, rumor-free information.” As more people begin using smartphones, the demand of mobile capabilities in emergency management increases. We highly encourage all of our clients to make the mobile app a part of every emergency alert deployed to the public. Every additional person you make contact with can save more lives!

Another very useful alert and notification tool within CodeRED is IPAWS (Integrated Public Alert & Warning System). The CodeRED IPAWS Tool provides the end user with the ability to send emergency alerts and notifications issued by various alert systems to residents. Those include EAS (Emergency Alerting System- TV/radios), WEA (Wireless Emergency Alerts – cellular broadcasts), NWEM (Non-Weather Emergency Messaging – through NOAA Weather radios), the Public Internet Service Feed (re-broadcast service providers access), and collaborative operating group (COG) to COG alerting.

So keep in mind that not all notification systems are created equal – there are differences. I encourage clients to evaluate their mass notification solutions and activation procedures today to ensure they are adequately exercising all components to reach the population in as many means as feasibly possible. Each delivery method used will capture the attention of various audience groups.  As a proven best practice, using every tool in the notification tool box collectively and simultaneously will prove to be the most effective life-saving method available.

Our client support team stands ready to all interested clients with orientation, training and best practice methods for launching the CodeRED Emergency Mobile Alert App as well as the IPAWS Alert Origination Tool. Please make your call for that assistance today!

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Don Hall is ECN’s Director of Government Relations and is a regular contributor on our blog. Hall’s public safety career experience includes 20 years as an Emergency Manager in Calvert County, Md., Jacksonville, FL and Washington, D.C. He also spent 10 years in law enforcement and 911 emergency communications and has 42 years of active duty experience in the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service in Maryland. He has managed and directed more than 30 Presidential Disaster Declarations during his emergency management career and received numerous public safety- related awards and citations.