The past few weeks have seen a number of Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS) messages (also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA) for severe weather events. Usage of this new system is growing (New York City sent out its first CMAS message), and we wanted to get a quick pulse check on how the public is responding to this new capability. So, we went to Twitter.
The reactions we found on Twitter show a range of responses to CMAS. Below are some of the trends we found, spanning from the positive (“Wow, this is neat!”) to the critical (“This alert does not apply to me.”) We intended this round up to be a quick snapshot of how the public is receiving these new mobile alerts, and we will keep our eyes out for a more authoritative and comprehensive analysis of the public’s response.
“The alert startled me.”
The alerts are clearly grabbing the attention of those who receive them. In some cases, the alerts are causing some annoyance. But this is very much the intention of the mobile alerts.
“I didn’t know about these alerts.”
We have written a lot about the need for public awareness of this new capability. It seems that many people still do not know that public safety officials can send geo-targeted alerts in emergency events.
“This is cool!”
Some are showing a degree of excitement at having received a CMAS message. Whether these individuals previously knew about the CMAS capability, or they simply educated themselves about it after receiving the alert, we do not know. However, some of the recipients clearly understand the value of this new service.
“Not everyone’s phone got the message.”
A number of Twitter users expressed confusion at the fact that one phone received the alert, while others nearby did not. The exact cause for this inconsistency in receiving alerts could be any one of a number of factors. Possibilities include: the nearby phones may not be CMAS compatible; their carriers may not carry CMAS messages; or a glitch could have occurred somewhere between the routing of the message and its display on the phone.
(Side note: Many Android devices and some BlackBerrys are CMAS capable. iPhones do not currently receive CMAS messages, although word has it that the next Apple iOS will support them.)
“This is irrelevant to my area.”
Simply from looking at Twitter, we cannot discern the specific geographic area that emergency managers were targeting for an alert. Sites like Google Public Alerts can display the areas targeted for a range of alerting systems, but we do not know the parameters of a polygon for the alerted area. However, some recipients of CMAS messages do not believe they should have been alerted in their area.
“This event didn’t warrant a CMAS message.”
From the activity we have seen, all of the CMAS messages sent to date have been weather related. The National Weather Service has published the list of weather events for which it will send CMAS messages—including flash flooding, which was the basis for many of the CMAS messages sent in the past week. However, a few recipients voiced their opinions that flash flooding does not rise to the level of a CMAS alert. Reading between the lines, there may be concern that too many messages will be sent for evens of small consequence—the “cry wolf” syndrome.
“I’m getting tired of these alerts, and I might opt out.”
Related to the last theme, a number of tweets suggested that the recipients were looking to change their phone’s settings to opt out of particular alerts. If people perceive the alerts as irrelevant, they may decide to opt out, potentially excluding them from more important alerts down the road.
Daniel Honker is a consultant with SRA International Strategy and Performance Group and the managing editor of AWARE. He advises government organizations in engaging stakeholders, collaborating online, and bringing public input into management processes.