In this age of instant communications, the emergency manager cannot be left out in the dark when an event is occurring that could be affecting his city or agency. Fortunately, this information gap can easily be eliminated through the use of automated e-mail and text message notification systems that can send a message to your desktop computer, text message pager or your mobile phone/PDA. The major different between an e-mail message and a text message, called a Short Message Service (SMS) message, is that an e-mail message can be sent to any e-mail account on a desktop computer or e-mail capable phone, where a SMS is only sent to a SMS-capable phone or PDA. There are hundreds of e-mail notifications services available, this column will only be covering the free ones and not the fee based subscription services. Check with your mobile provider to see if they charge for each e-mail/text message received.
The variety of services available range from local government based alerts, weather and civil warnings to worldwide breaking news notifications. Some cities, such as Washington, DC, have an active notification program where the citizens are encouraged to sign up to receive emergency notification of any event occurring in the nation's capital and what actions they should take. To sign up for most of these e-mail alerts just go the web site of the organization you are interested in and see if they have e-mail alerts. The first place you can check out for e-mail alerts is right here at Officer.com. On the Officer.com home page there is a link you can go to sign up. You can also check with your local media, TV, radio and print and see if they offer an alerting service. Next, try a search engine for the type of information you are interested in.
While most of these services are completely free, some do ask for demographic information that is shared with marketing partners that support these services. These partners may send you information that matches your interests, so beware.
Once you start signing up for one service you may then find yourself wanting to sign up for another and another. You may want to be selective in the number of and type of services you sign up for, otherwise you may suffer from information overload, otherwise called Too Much Information (TMI). As I was writing this article I received a breaking news alert to the fact that Paris Hilton was going to jail--not the type of important news you really need to know.
One of the nice features of these alerting services is that they are automated and you can sign up or off when you like. Say you are traveling to Washington, DC on business or vacation; you can activate the DC metro area emergency alerts while you are there and then turn them off when you leave.
The following is a small sample of some of the types of alerts and notifications you can receive. The web sites for all of the mentioned services are listed at the end of the article.