Jan 14 2008

Citizens Demand Better Emergency Alerts

CDW•G study demonstrates the need to disseminate emergency information more quickly and through a variety of communication media.

CDW•G study demonstrates the need to disseminate emergency information more quickly and through a variety of communication media.

Last December, the first big Boston snowstorm of the season socked the city during a weekday afternoon. Officials warned residents of the impending snow emergency and parking ban through automated e-mails and phone calls that conveyed several public-safety reminders.

Indispensable emergency alerts sent via e-mail or text messaging, such as Boston’s “Know Snow” program, are something more constituents are seeking from their cities, according to the results of a new study from CDW•G. For the study, Updating America’s Emergency Alert Infrastructure, CDW•G surveyed more than 1,400 people in 20 of the largest metropolitan areas in the country.

The research shows there is ample room for improvement. Many residents are unfamiliar with their cities’ electronic emergency notification processes and give their cities low marks on ability to alert residents.

Yet most of those polled desire infor-mation, and TV and radio alone won’t cut it. State and local governments must embrace new communication methods, such as text messaging, to quickly push information to recipients regardless of their location.

Does your city have a modern emergency alert notification system, such as mass e-mail or text messaging?

Rating on Relaying Emergency Info

Rate your city’s performance alerting citizens:

Emergency Options

15% of all respondents have used text messaging in an emergency. Of this group, 9% have texted during severe weather or a power outage, and 6% during a personal emergency, such as a car accident.

A greater number of young people use text messaging in an emergency. This is particularly true in Florida, which is subject to severe weather. In fact, 56% of respondents age 29 and under in the sunshine state have used text messaging in an emergency.

Changing Habits

Use of text messaging to:

  • Get a message to family/friends/co-workers when in a noisy environment
    29 and under - 35%
    All respondents - 27%
  • Get a message to someone in a business meeting
    29 and under - 11%
    All respondents - 9%
  • Send a quick message not requiring a full conversation
    29 and under - 45%
    All respondents - 38%

Room for Improvement

Almost one-quarter of Bay Area residents know about their city’s emergency alert system, compared with 14 percent of Washington, D.C., residents. Survey respondents also rated the performance of their city between fair and mediocre (there’s definite room for improvement, but at least they try) on its systems. These awareness numbers and weighted averages of the top 10 cities show that even the best-rated cities aren’t as timely in alerting citizens as the public desires and that there’s work to be done in publicizing these capabilities.

Rank City Awareness Total score*
#1 Miami-Fort Lauderdale 18% 3.08
#2 Tampa-St. Petersburg 10% 2.82
#3 Minneapolis-St. Paul 10% 2.79
#4 Cleveland 4% 2.69
#5 Houston 14% 2.64
#6 Atlanta 11% 2.61
#7 Dallas-Fort Worth 7% 2.53
#8 Chicago 9% 2.51
#9 New York 12% 2.43
#10 Detroit 2% 2.41

* Score is based on a scale of 1 – 5, with 1 being “weak,” with significant room for improvement, and 5 being “very strong,” where critical information is communicated in a timely fashion.

Information Please

Type of emergency alerts citizens are interested in receiving:

Improving Emergency Alerts

How city, state and local governments can enhance their emergency alert infrastructure:

  • Monitor constituents’ changing media consumption habits and adapt as necessary.
  • Deliver the information citizens want about weather, public safety and health threats.
  • Establish a layered communication strategy that supports pushing emergency information to constituents quickly and effectively, regardless of their location.

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