Improving Emergency Alert Management in 2019

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Getting the word out quickly and efficiently is a crucial part of emergency management.On January 13, 2018, a simple miscommunication resulted in an emergency worker in Hawaii believing that a nuclear missile attack was about to take place. The problem arose from an emergency alert drill that incorrectly included the words “This is not a drill” in a message sent to the emergency worker in question, according to Laurel Wamsley’s NPR article, “Worker Who Sent Hawaii False Alert Thought Missile Attack was Imminent.”

“The FCC public safety bureau attributed the false alert to a combination of human error and inadequate safeguards: There was no procedure in place to prevent a single person from mistakenly sending a missile alert to the state of Hawaii nor was there a procedure for recalling a false alert,” Wamsley writes.

“Since the debacle, the state emergency agency has implemented new safeguards. Two credentialed warning officers must validate every alert and test. Supervisors must receive advance notice of all drills. It has created a template for correcting false alerts.”

Those interested in a career in emergency management should understand that they are entering a field with no room for error. A simple mistake can snowball into widespread panic (not to mention unnecessary personnel and equipment expenditures). An online emergency management degree program can offer students the knowledge and skills necessary to excel in their chosen vocation.

Implementing Reliable Alert Systems

An emergency management alert system needs to be wholly dependable and all-encompassing if it’s going to successfully warn people in an affected area of an impending threat. False alarms are tantamount to the boy who cried wolf. Enough false alarms will result in people ignoring the warning, much as we disregard car alarms that almost never warn of an actual theft attempt.

Hawaii’s false missile attack incident provided the impetus necessary for the Senate to pass the READI (Reliable Emergency Alert Distribution Improvement) Act in late 2018. Much of the legislation takes into account the proliferation of mobile devices, internet services, and streaming apps, according to John Eggerton’s BroadcastingCable.com, article “Senate Passes Emergency Alert Bill.”

A blog post on MauiNow.com, a Hawaii-based website, itemizes the main elements of the READI Act in “Senate Passes Legislation to Improve Emergency Alerts.” According to the article, the READI Act will:

  • Ensure that more people will receive emergency alerts by eliminating the option to opt out of certain alerts on mobile devices.
  • Require active alerts from the president or FEMA to be repeated more than once (the current allowance) on radio and TV.
  • Research ways of updating the emergency system to send alerts over the internet, including over streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify.
  • Encourage each state’s emergency management departments to periodically review their State Emergency Alert System Plans.
  • Compel FEMA to devise a series of best practices on issuing alerts, avoiding false alarms, and retracting false alarms when they occur, and also on alert origination training and methods for officials to contact each other during emergencies.
  • Establish a reporting system for false alerts so the FCC can track them and investigate their causes.

Using Technology to the Advantage of Emergency Management

Arguably one of the most important parts of emergency management is getting the word out quickly and efficiently to as many people as possible. Fortunately, if our modern world excels at anything, it’s reaching millions of people instantaneously via the internet and mobile devices.

With the READI Act, state and federal emergency management departments have the legal means necessary to initiate push notifications to all mobile devices instantly.

“At 2:18 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 3 (2018), FEMA sent out the first message testing the new nationwide presidential-level Wireless Emergency Alert,” Gina Martinez explains in her article, “225 Million Phones Just Received a Presidential Alert. No, It Was Not a Text from President Trump” in Time. “The alert went out to every smartphone in the United States that was turned on and within range of a cell tower and there was no opt-out.”

The Presidential Alert Test was a success. But this useful and potentially life-saving alert system is not the only technological improvement to emergency communication and preparedness available to the average American in 2019. Map apps with real-time traffic information, technical apps, and educational apps are available covering topics ranging from hurricane, tornado, and earthquake information to communication apps that work via Wi-Fi, phone-to-phone without an internet or mobile data connection.

Both the American Red Cross and FEMA provide useful emergency apps, Margaret Steen writes in “Emergency Management: There’s an App for That” on GovTech.com. The Red Cross apps are available on the organization’s website and include apps for finding shelters and instructions for performing first aid. FEMA’s app is available on the agency’s website.

Perhaps one of the most promising uses of modern technology in emergency alert systems is the availability of two-way communications. Emergency alert systems used to be one-way only – a broadcast from emergency management professionals to the people. Thanks to mobile technology, these alerts can now also offer communication capability between the emergency responders and the people who need emergency assistance.

About Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Master of Science in Safety, Security, and Emergency Management (MSSSEM)

Students in EKU’s online MSSSEM program with a concentration in Occupational Safety can learn how to respond to emergencies and implement warning systems to reach those living in an affected area.

The degree’s core courses — which include Safety, Security, and Emergency Management Administration, Issues in Security Management, and Legislation and Legal Compliance — can prepare graduates for a variety of occupational health and safety careers.

EKU’s online format allows students to continue their career and home responsibilities while earning an advanced degree. For more information, contact EKU now.

Recommended Reading:

A Look at Public Emergency Services

5 Communication Tips to Help Emergency Managers Succeed

The Benefits & Challenges of Using Artificial Intelligence for Emergency Management

Sources:

Worker Thought Missile Attack was Imminent – NPR

Senate Passes Emergency Alert Bill – BroadcastingCable.com

Senate Passes Legislation to Improve Emergency Alerts – MauiNow.com

225 Million Phones Receive a Presidential Alert – Time

Emergency Management: There’s an App for That – GovTech.com

Emergency apps:

Red Cross

FEMA