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How to use SMS as Part of Your Emergency Notification Strategy

Circular photo of a group of people standing in a circle using their phones facing each other.When an emergency unfolds, clear and concise communication can save lives and resources. Every moment counts, so getting your message to all stakeholders as quickly as possible is critical. That’s why SMS should be a vital component of every emergency communication preparedness plan—it is often the fastest way to communicate with a large number of people in diverse locations.

Studies show that texts are received and read almost instantly by an overwhelming majority of the population. According to the Pew Research Center, 95 percent of Americans own cell phones, but only 77 percent of those phones are capable of receiving email or accessing social media. However, most phones can receive SMS messages, so text is often a more effective mobile notification method than email. For that reason, Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)—alerts delivered via SMS—are a preferred notification method for government agencies, college campuses and other large organizations to share real-time information about weather-related emergencies, terrorist threats, active shooters and other high-priority events.

Tips on Sending SMS Notifications

It’s always best to use multiple modes of communication in an emergency, and adding SMS to your mix can ensure that more of your recipients get critical information quickly. But each form of communication has strengths and weaknesses, and SMS is no exception. For those who haven’t yet sent a notification by SMS, we’ve provided tips for doing it effectively. Follow these guidelines and you can be confident in using SMS as a central part of your emergency communications strategy:

1. Be Clear and Concise

Each SMS message is limited to only 160 characters. Focus on the most important information and include a way for recipients to learn more: a link to a post online, a phone number or an indication that another text will follow when more information is available. Be sure each text identifies who the message is from (the organization and job title, not someone’s name).

2. Coordinate Your Efforts

When possible, send the SMS at the same time other communications go live—an email blast, a tweet, a note on your website, an automated phone call and other notifications.

3. Check Twice, Send Once

Take the time to double-check that the information in your SMS is correct. When possible, have two additional people read the text to ensure the instructions make sense and any next steps are clear.

4. Give People a Heads Up

Notification is effective when your audience knows to expect alerts. Let your employees, customers and other constituents know that in a time of crisis, SMS alerts will be one several important channels for keeping everyone safe and in the know.

Always remember, no one method of communication is going to reach everyone, so as you build your notification strategy and contact database, encourage recipients to include home phones, office phones, email addresses, cell phones and any other way to reach them. When it comes time to sound the alarm, you’ll be glad you have a variety of ways to reach your people—including by SMS.