Not Getting the (Text) Message
America’s media consumption habits have changed dramatically in recent years.
We watch less television, are more mobile, and, especially within younger demographics, we are increasingly reliant on cell phones and text messaging.
The rapid adoption of advanced communications technologies means citizens have immediate access to information about everything from traffic to weather to movie times and locations, all at the click of a button.
The question is: Are governments using these new technology tools to accelerate and improve the delivery of emergency information?
To determine if state and local governments effectively relay emergency information to their citizens, CDW Government, Inc. (CDW-G) recently conducted a survey of 1,448 Americans living in the top 20 metropolitan areas across the country. We found two critical disconnects: Many governments are not using modern communications tools to reach Americans during emergencies, and many Americans are simply unaware of the emergency notification programs run by their local governments.
NEW TECHNOLOGIES FOR FASTER NOTIFICATIONDespite the fact that wireless subscription and text messaging use are at all time highs, CDW-G’s national survey found that emergency notification capabilities are not keeping up with advances in technology.
Most Americans still turn to radio and television for emergency information. Even though Americans sent more than 28 billon text messages in June 2007 alone, just 4 percent of citizens rely on text messages, e-mail or government Web sites for emergency notification information. Not surprisingly, residents of states that suffer frequent major storms are most likely to use text messaging in an emergency. In Florida, for example, 56 percent of survey participants age 29 and under said they used text messaging to communicate in an emergency.
While television and radio will always play a valuable role in communicating essential information to the public, both require citizens to know that there is an emergency and then tune in. Television, especially, also requires an electrical power source, which may be out in the event of a major storm. Text messaging, on the other hand, delivers information to Americans whenever and wherever they are. It does not require electricity or even citizen awareness.
A CALL TO ACTIONIn a crisis situation, governments and enterprises need to disseminate information to large populations as quickly as possible. State and local agencies should evaluate existing emergency notification systems to determine if they are reaching citizens with accurate information within an acceptable timeframe. Additionally, state and local agencies need to recognize citizens’ changing media consumption habits and explore the benefits of advanced technology, such as mass text and e-mail messaging. Their continuity of operation (COOP) strategies should include the means to “push” targeted information to constituents, with or without regard to someone’s location.
For their own safety, citizens and employees need to learn about and sign up for existing emergency notification programs. Many large cities and metropolitan areas, from New York to Washington, D.C., to Miami, have developed or are building robust notification programs that include e-mail and text messaging delivery of emergency alerts. But CDW-G’s research found that two-thirds of Americans don’t know if their city has a modern emergency alert notification system in place. It is imperative that citizens are aware of their local government emergency notification systems, how they work, and how they can sign up. Many cities are spreading the word through community events, Web sites, and public service announcements. These efforts must continue unabated. At the same time, citizens need to proactively seek out information about their local emergency alert systems.
In today’s threat environment, where time is of the essence, local governments and businesses are working to deliver critical information faster than ever before. By harnessing new communication technologies such as text messaging, local governments have the ability to reach citizens right away with critical emergency information – wherever they are.