2014: A Year of Extraordinary Alert Developments

This time last year, we expressed excitement about what we thought 2014 would bring to emergency alerts and notifications. In our 2013 year-end blog post, we said there were important things that have been developing for years that could develop in 2014 into meaningful alerting tools. By golly, I believe we got it.

2014 was a year of extraordinary development in alerts, perhaps more so than in the last 10 years combined. More channels for delivering alerts became available to the extent that we’re beginning to see a time when alerts are ubiquitous. The national cell broadcast alert system, Wireless Emergency Alerts, is now a mature and generally acceptable tool for reaching people via their cellphones. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children says no fewer than 13 children under serious threat were rescued directly as result of WEA. In other success stories, people took shelter after receiving a WEA alert with its loud and obnoxious tones and found safety from a storm.

Big social media companies like Twitter, Facebook and Google announced previously that they offer alerts. The Weather Channel recently announced that it’ll do the same through its popular Weather Channel app.

In one of the best demonstrations of potential for use of expanded channels in 2014 came word that “directed advertising” was getting into the alerting mix. Those are the ads you see online that know what you’ve been searching for. An organization, called the Federation for Internet Alerts, is helping to make this possible. In the meantime, alerting is making its way to digital signs at churches, businesses, campuses and other places the public frequents. (See our post here.)

Don’t count out the legacy alerting systems.

The market for telephone and text notification tools appeared more vibrant than ever in 2014, particularly since vendors have embraced the concept that their tools need to be able to activate alerts via a growing list of channels.

The legacy alerting stalwart, the Emergency Alert System (EAS), had a rough year. A stir developed when the Bobby Bones syndicated radio show started a daisy chain of fake EAS alerts from the president on a number of radio and TV stations. The host sent out EAS activation tones as he complained on-air about EAS interrupting the football game he was watching the night before. (Our blog post on the incident was our most viewed of the year.) The FCC got involved and is considering a fine. The incident prompted the National Association of Broadcasters to tell the FCC that potential for EAS mischief is substantial. (See the post here.) Despite this, all signs are that the EAS remains strong and perhaps even stronger because of the rough patches.

The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), which serves as the government host of EAS and WEA, got stronger in 2014 with much potential remaining. More agencies signed up to send alerts through IPAWS, including WEA, and more alert disseminators signed up to receive the alerts. In our opinion, as expressed in a mid-year blog post, the potential of IPAWS is just beginning to be exploited. More organizations could be retrieving IPAWS feeds and sending the alerts through their own communication channels. The bill that would make IPAWS a matter of law, rather than of Presidential Executive Order, inched forward in 2014 … but only inched.

Specialized earthquake alerting showed up on more people’s radar in 2014.

Congress approved a $5 million appropriation to help advance a West Coast initiative for earthquake alerts. Even Conan O’Brien was talking about it and did a comedy skit on his national TV show about what people would do with 10 seconds warning of an earthquake.

With so much happening in emergency alerting, local practitioners are asking lots of questions.

We heard that at the recent International Association of Emergency Managers conference, quite a few people showed up at the IPAWS booth to talk about new alerting complexities and choices. This stands to reason. There are more alerting options and channels available than ever, some of them available at little or no charge. It’s a natural evolution that people are talking about managing the choices and channels since it’s now widely accepted that it takes a system of alerting systems to effectively alert a public with divergent and dynamic communication preferences. (Galain recently published a white paper on how emergency alerting system consultants can help with the confusion.)

So, in summary, 2014 was a particularly good year for emergency alerting.

More options are now available for both practitioners and the public. As for 2015, we expect to learn of yet more alerting opportunities and see more fine-tuning of the capabilities now available to us. It’s going to be a good year.

Happy New Year!


This post was originally published in Emergency Management Magazine’s Alerts and Notifications blog authored by Galain President Rick Wimberly at Emergency Management Magazine.