Government Technology recently reported on San Diego’s newly expanded emergency notification suite, AlertSanDiego, which has added alerting options for the visually impaired, hearing impaired, and populations with limited English proficiency.
A free, opt-in service called Accessible AlertSanDiego sends notifications to registered users through devices like computers, cellphones, smartphones, tablets and wireless Braille readers. The notification is sent through text, voice and video format, said Robert Barreras, emergency services coordinator for the county OES. The videos are recorded in American Sign Language and explain to the recipient what to do in the emergency. The text of the message is also translated into English and displayed below the video. As the video shows the message in Sign Language, a voice recording simultaneously plays the message slowly in English for individuals for whom English isn’t their first language so they may better understand.
The article points out that the new enhancements are part of a “whole community” approach to alerting. In a diverse population such as San Diego, “one size fits all” alerts cannot truly reach all subgroups in the population and effectively spur an effective public response. Different groups have different needs, from those with functional and access needs that may require different alert delivery (e.g., through a Braille screen reader) to those that do not understand English, who may require translations of message content.
Moreover, this new system expands the toolbox for San Diego’s emergency managers. Rather than building new technologies that the local government would need to introduce to the population, this system aims to increase the efficacy of alerts by going to the platforms that different groups already use, as San Diego’s assistant director for the Office of Emergency Services Stephen Rea points out:
“They are generally more comfortable with using text messaging, phone messaging, Braille readers and smartphones, so it seems like an obvious choice for us,” Rea said. “Instead of trying to introduce something new, let’s use what they’re comfortable with and see if we can leverage what we’ve got and contact them with their preferred manner of being contacted.”