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.
- Officer.com Officer.com offers several different types of e-mail notifications. Two of them are; a daily e-mail of breaking news and information from Officer.com, and the other, unfortunately, of officer down notifications.
- Weather Alerts One of the most popular alerting services is for weather, whether it is for daily weather forecasts or severe weather alerts. The Weather Channel and Accuweather both offer these services. Some also offer an upgraded premium (fee based) service. Severe weather alerts may also be obtained from the local media.
- Breaking News The top two cable news channels both offer breaking news alerts. It is interesting to see what one considers breaking news-worthy and what is not.
- Amber Alerts As the name states, this site will give you localized Amber Alerts to your wireless device once you register and customize it with your zip code.
- Washington, DC The nation's capital has an emergency notification system for the general public. The notifications cover emergency alerts and what actions or important instructions to follow.
- New York City The Big Apple offers three different types of e-mails for the general public. The first is e-mails concerning preparation, notifications and emergency alerts. The second is the Tip of the Week and news and events. The final one is geared toward community based organization. NYC OEM also provides an e-mail alert for emergency responders of breaking emergencies in NYC. This service requires an e-mail request to be submitted, and if approved, you will receive notification of major fires, transportation incidents, unusual occurrences, etc.
- KABC TV The local Los Angles affiliate of ABC has breaking news and weather information of the Los Angeles region.
- King County, WA This is one of the more robust government sites. The local governments in this area provide emergency alerts, breaking news and road closure info for the Puget Sound region
- Emergency E-mail and Notification Network This portal will take you to many notification services provided by government agencies around the country. You can choose which state to receive alerts from and what type of alerts. The alerts can customized from Homeland Security to weather-related.
- FBI The e-mail alerts from the FBI are more of information that breaking crime alerts, but you never know what might be sent out at any time.