Responding to fears of an imminent Soviet nuclear attack, in 1951 Pres. Harry Truman set up a national system enabling the president to quickly notify the public of an impending national security threat via a cross-country relay chain of AM radio stations. It used characteristic blaring warning tones and became a precursor of the Emergency Alert System still in use today. “There are certain stations across every market that listen for those tones and then retransmit the alert to other stations in their market,” says John Lawson, an emergency alert expert who has advised the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on its modern warning systems.
By JOHN LAWSON, Convergence Services Inc. and senior advisor to Mobile-EAS
The explosion of communication options is making it even more difficult to reach the public when emergencies strike, according to a new survey of emergency managers.
People are going mobile, and the public’s preference for receiving a variety of communications is the greatest challenge facing nearly one-third of emergency managers.
More than half of emergency managers surveyed (58 percent) trust local and regional government officials to ensure sufficient public-safety standards, communications and planning, according to the same study done last year.
The 2013 Zogby study, commissioned by Federal Signal, a maker of emergency lighting and notification equipment, also found that:
- 72 percent of respondents are communicating with their community directly though email, direct mail and phone calls;
- 67 percent are communicating with the public through a community website; and,
- About half of emergency managers report using Facebook as part of their alerting system, but some 30 percent of emergency managers are not currently providing educational tools through websites and social media.
As communications preferences continue to change and diversify, emergency managers must consider a layered approach that can reach all community members effectively and efficiently. That includes not only enabling new technologies, such as Mobile EAS, but also successfully integrating these with traditional communications methods in a way that drives citizens to action.