Emergency Management Magazine hosted an All Hazards Stakeholders Summit in Seattle today. I believe this is the second year of these “summits”, bringing together the best and brightest stars in Emergency Management to motivate, inspire and educate. It was fun to reconnect with other professionals, and those I recognized only by avatar.
Near the end of the morning Gary Briese, a well-respected and seasoned expert in emergency management asked the audience a series of thought provoking questions, generating a ton of comments from us in the cheap seats. I yawned through most, but one caught my attention. I can’t remember the exact language, but it had to do with a 2011 survey revealing over 25% of US households have ditched their home telephones, and now rely on their cell phones. So, the question was, given the proliferation of web based mass notification systems that rely on “hard line” phone number databases, how do we now reliably let people know what is going on?
Audience responses were interesting from a technological and sociological perspective, and clearly reinforced the maturation of the “information age” (nod to Alvin Toffler). I won’t bore you with the details of exactly what people said…Wait a minute, I didn’t take notes. But, I’ll shotgun impressions on this particular topic:
- There are lots of web based mass messaging and notification options. But, using these services to get messages to wireless devices may be unreliable because of the spam filtering tools used by wireless carriers. (Lesson: Use ALL communication tools at your disposal)
- Don’t be deceived by economic status. A common misconception is the homeless and economically challenged don’t have the same access to the internet and wireless devices. But, recent studies seem to indicate the homeless and disadvantaged consider smartphones as a lifeline as important as food. Heck, one company recently tried to leverage this demographic to sell local Wi-Fi “hot spots”…an experiment that is not going over well I might add.
- In most high visibility events, we don’t need to worry about “alerting the public”. Trust me, they’ll already know. In fact, they probably will know more than we do, and will spread their word faster than we can keep up. We’ll have a tough enough job just trying to listen to what they are saying, correct misinformation and try to shout over their noise to convince folks to buy what we are selling (yes, I’m using a marketing analogy for a reason).
- If we wait for CMAS, IPAWS, AWACS, NFL, CIA, DHS, FEMA or any other acronym in the public sector to come up with “the answer”, we’re going to be waiting for a long time. In fact, by the time these standards get fully implemented, your 12 year old speed tweetin’ kid may be complaining about how loud their kids play their music.
- Wake up folks! It’s about COMMUNITY engagement, not public communication. Folks talk to those they trust first. Period. If Aunt Beth is concerned, she’ll get hold of Cousin Phil and get the straight skinny. We’re the government, remember?
Thanks to Marty and all the staff at Emergency Management Magazine for a great day. Hope you come back again next year!