Better Mass Notification Needed
December 2, 2009
Cities and states are testing their emergency notification systems with good and lessthan good results. For example, a man and his wife ordered water at a restaurant in Northwest Portland last Saturday night, and that is how they found out about the city’s E. coli contamination alert. “Otherwise, we wouldn’t have heard about it,” he said. By then, the alert to boil water would have been at least 12 hours old - plenty of time to sip from the tap. The city is looking into technology that can contact residents on cell phones and via e-mail and social networking sites such as Twitter, as well as over land lines. For the weekend E. coli alert, the city issued a press release and sent it to all the city’s news outlets. City officials also personally notified OregonHealth & ScienceUniversity, PortlandStateUniversity and the Oregon Restaurant Association. One initiative is a Web site, publicalerts.org, that is a clearinghouse for all kinds of emergency information, from that of schools and utilities to law enforcement. The city is testing the site, and it is expected to be fully operational soon. The second project is a telephone notification system along the lines of the one used by Portland Public Schools to let families know about school closures.
In Pennsylvania, the state has launched AlertPA, an emergency notification system that helps to provide Pennsylvanians with timely information during an urgent situation. “When emergencies, severe weather, and other life and health threatening incidents occur, Pennsylvanians can be among the first to know by signing up for AlertPA,” the governor stated in a news release. AlertPA helps officials quickly send emergency text and e-mail alerts, and other important notifications, to users to assist them in making informed decisions. Some of the situations requiring an alert might involve toxic chemicals, nuclear power plants, failure of large dams and other urgent matters. Other types of alerts include weather, warnings, public health notifications, airport delays, consumer product recalls, prison notifications and more. In an effort to reach as many people as possible during a prison emergency, the Department of Corrections is enhancing its notification system by using AlertPA.