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A Citizen’s Eye View of Public Preparedness

“Should ENS (Emergency Notification Systems) Be Used Only In Emergencies?”

June 16th, 2010 · No Comments

There’s a post on Emergency Management magazines interesting blog, Alerts & Notifications, “Should ENS (Emergency Notification Systems) Be Used Only In Emergencies?”

The post, written by Lorin Bristow, reacts to a recent study of more than 400 notification system decision-makers, in which 58% said they use their systems for “emergency situations only” while 42% said they use it for “emergency, urgent, and non-emergency situations equally.” Bristow lays out the two “camps”:

For those in the “emergency only” camp, there is often a fear by managers that frequent use will desensitize citizens to alerts. If the public receives regular, routine messages through the notification system, according to the theory, people may ignore alerts when a real crisis exists. Also, the E911 data used to populate these systems may not legally be applicable for non-emergency situations–another possible factor.

For those in the “emergency and non-emergency” camp, there is a belief that more liberal use provides citizens with greater familiarity and deeper comfort in interacting with the system. It also serves as a highly visible connection point between citizens and first responder agencies, creating a sense of community involvement and trust.

Bristow says he’s in the latter camp:

I suppose we lean toward the latter camp. In all our years of involvement in ENS, the most memorable and innovative notification programs tended toward a greater frequency of use. In these agencies, systems and procedures are exercised regularly and users are often better trained. This leads to greater confidence and fewer mistakes. Further, citizens appreciate the system, feeling local public safety agencies are proactive and “on the ball.”

There is one caveat here, however. As a citizen, I don’t mind receiving frequent communications as long as the information is highly relevant to me. Flooding me with frivolous or poorly targeted information will annoy and frustrate me (I don’t really want to hear about the citizen watch meeting being held in a community on the other side of the county). So, even though we support using ENS for non-emergency purposes, we recommend these alerts be well targeted and highly relevant.

I agree with Bristow. I think there is a lot of government information that is useful to the public but might not rise to the level of  ’emergency communications’ (ie. street closings, low flying military aircraft in the area). I subscribe to a number of e-mail/text alerts from government authorities around the U.S., and have found that it is rare that I receive a notification that I think was superfluous even if it didn’t impact me directly. I also believe there is value in getting the public used to receiving notifications from their governmental entities (and enlisting more citizens to sign up for email/text alerts that can be targeted) in the advance of a major emergency.

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Tags: Emergency Alerts

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