Why is the Public Complacent About Emergency Alerting Signup?

Never before have there been so many communications channels available for alerting, and it’s a good thing, the public expects them.  That’s the way I’m starting my presentation this week to the National Homeland Security Conference on “Saving Lives Through Alerting Technology”.  The audience will see a cool animated slide with 19 different ways alerts can be delivered popping up on the screen.  I’m sure the audience will be dazzled by my animation abilities.  (I thought about doing them in 3D after I saw Star Trek this weekend.)

When the gasping ends, I’ll get to the real point.  Although there are lots of alerting channels available, most require the public to take some type of action to get them.  They have to sign-up, download something, buy a weather radio, stay tuned when they hear Emergency Alert System tones, or just pay attention.  And, they often don’t take the action.  I’ll cite alert system sign-up stats to make the point.

This won’t surprise anyone in this group, made of pros from the largest population centers in the U.S. involved with the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI).  They’re dealing with this first-hand.

What Can Be Done to Engage the Public in Alerting Signup?

Technology is providing some relief.  Vendors leading the way have helped facilitate the “system of systems” approach where multiple channels are used at the same time to deliver alerts.  Rare anymore will you hear a vendor claim their method of alerting is the best.   Plus, they’ve enhanced their cloud capabilities so that more alerts can be delivered faster through more channels.  And, some creative advances are coming from vendors.  One of our favorites is ability to use location-based-services (LBS) to deliver alerts (providing the public signs up).

We also cite interesting client projects, such as helping a county agency develop a bid document that required the selected vendor to provide a single interface for activating all alerting channels.  And, there was one where we helped a 25 agency UASI group develop a single interface for managing contact info of first responders from different organizations so that internal alerts and notifications could be delivered more efficiently.

And, then there’s the forward movement of FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the big banana of the “system of systems”.

So, yes, the public is more demanding on how they get their alerts and, yes, they often don’t take action to get them.  But, we sure are making progress responding to their demands and complacency.

See the presentation here.  (Sorry, no 3D available.)

Need more help? Our free Whitepaper, “Seven Essential Building Blocks of Better Stakeholder Engagement,” lists specific ways to create a stronger messaging platform and improve your agency’s outreach efforts.

What About Alerting for Special Needs Populations?

Recognizing that alert and warning information is only effective if received means understanding how people in our communities choose to receive information. And if the goal is to alert everyone, then it is vitally important not to overlook the approximately 25% of our population who rely on assistance or accommodation in their day-to-day lives.  FEMA has published an impressive whitepaper, “Alerting The Whole Community: Removing Barriers to Alerting Accessibillity,” which can help you reach the goal of making sure alerts and warnings (and outreach) are fully accessible by the whole community.


An edited version of this post was originally published in Emergency Management Magazine’s Alerts and Notifications blog authored by Galain President Rick Wimberly at Emergency Management Magazine.