Emergency mass communications using personal alerts

by Mac Thompson on Feb 24, 2015 2:30:00 PM

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In emergency situations, text notifications and personal alerts via wireless devices are effective to deliver instructional messages when complex information must be conveyed, especially to multiple recipient groups or locations. Automated scripted responses to a variety of situations can be deployed simultaneously, however the messages can also be altered at the last minute to instruct the specifics of what to do during an emergency. In the instance of a violent attacker on the premises, a lockdown message can be targeted to particular areas of the building that are of the highest risk, meanwhile non-affected areas of the building can be sent messages with orders to evacuate and no other details, avoiding unnecessary panic.

Social media is also gaining traction as a channel through which to send emergency communications, although it is not quite as intrusive as a text message. The upside to a targeted Facebook or Twitter post towards an individual is that they have the ability to respond with helpful information or clarifying questions; a text message is automated and often has no reply-back number.

In 2009, during a flood in Fargo, North Dakota, a mass notification system helped a school district notify and recruit volunteers to aid in placing sandbags along the embankment of the Red River to deter rising flood waters from destroying nearby structures. More than 152,000 messages were sent over a period of 22 days which resulted in thousands of additional student and parent volunteers joining to protect the community. In the end, several buildings and three schools were saved from flood waters.

A large reason why Fargo citizens were successful in protecting their city from the flood is the fact that the mass notifications sent by the school district were carefully crafted; they included information on where to go, what to bring, and what would be provided by the district. When using the mass media to disperse important communications, the overall message can become distorted and lose its value; for instance, volunteers could have misheard or misinterpreted incorrect information via TV, radio, or word of mouth. Direct mass notifications were extremely helpful—because the message was helpful.

Related: The four layers of mass notification delivery

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This post was written by Mac Thompson

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