Posts Tagged ‘Emergency SMS’

Cities Reconsider Emergency Communications

Saturday, July 11th, 2009

USA Today reports that cities are reconsidering their plans to alert residents to disaster threats via text messages owing to unanticipated problems with this form of communication. Last June, 100,000 residents of Fort Collins, Colorado did not receive tornado alerts delivered to them via cell phone and e-mail messages. In addition to technical failures, such as this one, the expense of this form of alert can be substantial for cities that are under increasing financial pressure.

To the USA Today report, I can add a concern of my own – information overload. New York City’s Office of Emergency Services offered an SMS text message alert system for disasters happening in New York City. I signed up for the service, which was free, believing that advance notice of any disruptions would help us to plan our work and commutes to and from the office. I soon terminated my subscription. The problem was information overload. I was receiving notices of emergency calls such as EMS being called to a site where a body was found floating in the Hudson River and other such events which, while pertinent to the emergency responders, are not relevant to us. After receiving several hundred such messages each day, I began to appreciate that any messages that would be pertinent to us would be lost in the clutter. So I now rely on weather and other alert systems through the news radio. I find it to be more efficient for the limited resources, particularly in terms of attention bandwidth, of a small business.