Using disasters to prepare your community with your mass notification system

mass notificationEvery disaster we experience or watch unfold across the country provides valuable lessons learned and best practices for others to capitalize on. In the public safety arena, this is one of our most productive means of enhancing our own response plans and procedures, and we are always intrigued to learn from these other incidents. The underlying intent behind the informational blogs that ECN provides to our clients is to highlight the lessons learned from other incidents and, more specifically, as they relate to mass notification. Contributing to your success in saving lives is our number one goal.

The recent hazardous materials train derailment incident in Maryville, Tennessee has prompted us to emphasize some of the lessons learned from that jurisdiction as they carried out the task of alerting the residents that needed to be evacuated from the area. Based on news reports and articles that we have read, it appears as if they followed their plans for alerting residents through the use of their mass notification system. Phone calls were delivered as best as they could be; however, they realized the database in place only contained about 61% of their residents. They initiated a back-up system: public safety responders going door-to-door to evacuate the homes in danger. This is a time consuming exercise that takes a lot of organization and valuable time during a critical incident where time is not abundant. Though, it was a good back up strategy.

A concern that deserves some attention in every jurisdiction is that their database only contained 61% of the households in the county. A year-round public awareness campaign to encourage citizens to opt-in or update their contact information is a very critical component to a comprehensive notification system. A very successful method of obtaining the interest of your citizens is to utilize the “opportunity of serious concern” that nationally recognized newsworthy events have created, such as this incident in Tennessee. For several days, there was press coverage with concern over the evacuation process. Work with your local media sources following these events to highlight the possibility that people may not be contacted for a life safety evacuation telephone call because their contact information is not available. While they are seeing events, such as this, unfold on TV, their attention is at its highest level making this a great time to encourage your residents to provide their information to you, just in case an event occurs in your community.

Programmatically, you should use every mode of message delivery possible within your capability in every emergency mass notification job you launch. For CodeRED clients, there are over a dozen different message delivery paths that you can launch to simultaneously. An incident of this magnitude requires the use of every delivery mode to capture the attention of as many residents as possible. Each method will yield an audience that one of the other methods did not, but used in concert with each other will undoubtedly increase the success of the notification effort and will absolutely lead to saving lives.

It’s logical to conclude there will always be a certain percentage of the public you are unable to reach at various times; however, taking advantage of every mode of delivery and asking others to spread the word with their neighbors will go a long way toward that 100%  notification goal. Continue to take every opportunity to encourage your residents to provide their contact information to assist your efforts to save lives. This is a year-round initiative and has proven to be very successful in many other jurisdictions. Your local media will be more than happy to be a partner in this endeavor and will likely have a few good marketing ideas of their own– take advantage of them every chance you get.

For additional ideas and marketing assistance in this regard, please feel free to contact the ECN Team at any time at 866-939-0911.


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.