There’s a new emergency alert system coming to town. The federal government is making plans to issue text warnings to cell phones during national emergencies. The broadcast texts will have at least three levels, including:
- Presidential warnings about national emergencies
- Geographically based, catastrophic weather alerts
- AMBER alerts for missing children
The idea of texting national emergencies just goes to show how technologically dependent we have become and how much our society has changed.
People will be able to opt out of all notifications except for Presidential warnings. With 85% of all American adults using mobile phones, the majority of which have texting capabilities, it seems like we’re off to a good start. Or are we? Perhaps we should look a little deeper.
A new chip will provide phones with the capability to receive emergency messages. Some Smartphones being sold today already have the chip installed and will receive software updates when the service goes online later this year.
We’re told that messages will go through even if traditional phone lines cannot handle call volumes. It would be interesting to know how they tested the infrastructure to ensure it can scale. Also, will the people who turn off location-based services be able to receive geographically based alerts?
Like all organizations, the government has ideas that sound good on paper. Successful organizations test, execute, measure outcomes, adjust to achieve desired results and iterate. Most companies iterate through a lot of cycles before their systems work as expected.
If we’re relying on mass texting as a primary way to be notified of national emergencies in New York City and Washington, DC, I’d like to know they’ve run the system through its paces and that it can scale.
Scale needs to happen in two ways. First, there needs to be proven infrastructure that supports wide-scale texting in our largest metropolitan areas. Second, there needs to be a “new phone adoption rate” that achieves enough critical mass to make texting a viable channel for mass communication under emergency circumstances.
We have to start somewhere. Over time, texting may become the predominant method of emergency communication. For now, it’s nice supplement to our existing systems.