From Galain President Rick Wimberly’s Blog “Alerts and Notifications: Best Practices For Emergency Notification Programs”

in Emergency Management Magazine

We’ll confess.  We’re excited about 2014 for alerts and notifications. There are important things that have been developing for years that could really develop this year into important and meaningful tools. Let’s take a look:

IPAWS: In 2013, the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) produced the first clear signs that it can help save lives. In 2014, more local authorities will get IPAWS alerting capability for themselves, just as the National Weather Service and National Center for Missing and Exploited Children have…both with impressive results.

Meantime, the public will become more accustomed to receiving IPAWS alerts through the national mobile alerting system Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA).

And, maybe, just maybe, Congress will wake up to the values of IPAWS, pass legislation that codifies IPAWS, and allocates appropriate funds for IPAWS outreach, development of the practice of alerts and warnings, and infrastructure enhancement.

Vendor Technology: It seems that leading vendors are getting more inventive and creative. They must. Competition is tough; buyers are smart. And, even though funds are tight, organizations are still buying. Rarely a day goes by without announcements about purchases by local authorities, schools and universities, and the private sector. This will encourage innovation.

Addressing Real Needs:  There’s a need to recognize what really makes alerting successful.  It spans well beyond technology.  Perhaps there could be nice movement on that front this year.  Wade Witmer, Deputy IPAWS Director, recently posted on LinkedIn in a discussion about the viability of IPAWS, “We are always seeking comment and ideas that can improve alert and warning, and not just technology, but also practice, procedure or science that helps to effectively help local authorities save people from disaster.”

Meantime, Galain is conducting a survey to help identify the needs, then will publish a series of documents on the top ones.  Please complete the survey and pass it around.  It won’t take five minutes, and you can find it here.  When it’s published, the series will be made available at no charge to anyone who wants it.

Social media: Something big is bound to happen. Someone somewhere is going to figure out how to really use social media to get people’s attention when an emergency is occurring. Our friend Art Botterell says 2014 will be the year that alerting really goes peer-to-peer. He cites examples like Waze and Inrix, which fuse traffic information shared by peers. The same could be done for emergencies. Besides, says Art, “seems like faith in ‘the responsible authorities’ is getting harder to sell all the time”.

Broadcast Alerting: Radio and TV have the oldest tradition of organized alerting in the US, going back to their early days. The tradition will continue to get stronger. The Emergency Alert System (EAS) has now been tested nationally, vulnerabilities have been exposed, and addressed. Plus, broadcasters will continue to chip away to make FM chips in mobile devices mandatory, in part to support EAS. Sprint recently started adding FM chips to mobile devices. Others could follow. And, I think in 2014, more broadcasters will realize how to work with other alerting tools, like WEA. They may as well talk about WEA. Their audiences will be.

IPAWS Public Feed: Back to IPAWS, there’s a little known capability of IPAWS that should start taking form in 2014. It’s a feed of IPAWS alerts that can be picked up by virtually anything that can be turned into an alert disseminator. For example, digital sign systems could pick up IPAWS alerts, then relay them. Websites could add alerts to their capabilities by picking up IPAWS feeds. Devices that serve people with disabilities could pick up the feeds. And, the list goes on. Use your imagination.

Wireless Emergency Alerts Evolve: As WEA alerts make their mark, limits have become more exposed. The two primary ones: 90 character limit, and geographic targeting. The committee that made the rules for WEA (then, CMAS) has started looking at both limits, and perhaps something will come out of that effort in 2014.

Higher Education: Colleges and universities are going to get, well, smarter about alerts and warnings. After the Virginia Tech shooting, many rushed out to beef up their text alerting, apparently thinking that was the best route to go. Nothing wrong with text alerting, as long as it’s only one of the channels being used. More schools will be closely assessing the channels they’re using and the, what we call with our clients, the “signal strength” of channels. Also, we believe colleges and universities should be looking at ways “intelligent notifications” can help manage their responses, in addition to alerting their communities.

So, you see, lots to be excited about in 2014. Now, I admit, there’s a bit of optimism in this post, maybe even some wishful thinking. But, strong pressures exist that will help make 2014 a year of enhancement for alerts, warnings, and notifications. We’re excited to be a part of it.

All the best, and have a great 2014!