As the recent Hurricane-Sandy-related storms have shown, wireless communications systems are vulnerable and frequently cell phone service is knocked out during major weather events. In a previous story here on AWARE last summer, we noted that having an FM radio receiver in all cellular handsets would provide a means to receive emergency information that comes directly from the broadcast station towers and does not depend on the vulnerable cellular networks. In the article, we explored why FM is currently lacking on U.S. wireless devices and highlighted the ongoing campaign of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) advocating for wireless carriers to provide FM chips in handsets. The work of broadcasters has apparently paid off, as Sprint announced this week that it would indeed begin activating FM in many of its smart phones. Even more encouraging is that the press release hints of interactive aspects to this FM tuner application, making it more than just a mere radio receiver.

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Update on IPAWS and CMAS Usage

On November 16, 2012, in CAP, CMAS & Mobile Alerts, IPAWS, by with SRA International

In a mid-November FEMA webinar, the alert and warning community received an update on the extensive use of the Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS) by the National Weather Service (NWS) over the last several months and an encouraging report from FEMA on the growing number of alert originators and alert origination service developers that continue to request connection to FEMA’s Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS).

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Learning from Other Industries’ Social Media Blunders

On September 7, 2012, in Social Media, by with SRA International


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I have heard numerous times that paying attention to social media best practices from industries completely different than the one you operate in can be remarkably valuable.  I’ve seen this at work in several blog/opinion pieces focused on lessons emergency managers (EMs) using social media can learn from some of the epic social media fails during the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London.  What separates EMs from big broadcasters like NBC is that most EMs don’t have the same luxury as NBC in handling a public relations nightmare and adapting for the future.  Can EMs avoid hitches in using social media by taking a hard look at where NBC went wrong, though? Absolutely!

First, let’s explore the historical implications of the relationship between the Olympic Games and social media. The last Summer Olympic in 2008 in Beijing during which time the use of social media was not as pervasive as it is today.  As such, guidance on online behavior was not a high-priority topic and substantially fewer guidelines existed.  Social media blogging and internet guidelines were introduced by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) this year.  This serves as a testament to the exponential growth in social media use since 2008.  Social media connected Olympics fans and athletes just as it connects government and citizens in the emergency management space.  Wonderful connections, like these, though are not without complications. 

Olympic observers were asked to limit use of social media channels to “urgent updates” only.  This was a result of some technical difficulties during the initial events, where Olympic broadcasters grappled with GPS and other wireless technologies aimed to deliver information during an event (e.g., distance between bike riders).  The issue did not stem from a typical technological failure, but rather from the public overusing social media channels like Twitter and text messaging.  Olympics broadcasters were noticeably not prepared for these big social media changes.  After all, how do you balance the seemingly infinite possibilities of social media updates which may offer information that is true or false, timely or irrelevant, close hold or meant for wide dissemination?  Like many of us, I think the broadcasters are learning how their audiences use social media and how to connect back while being sensitive to the outcomes.  It is quite the new age sociology lesson, isn’t it?

How does this translate in the emergency management environment?  Picture this:  A state is facing some type of disaster, such as an impending tropical storm like the recent Hurricane Isaac.  EMs are coordinating response and recovery efforts as they typically would and citizens are heavily taking to social media channels like they did during the Olympic Games.  What could be the outcome if the citizenry were asked to ease up on social media use – posting only urgent updates?  What exactly does urgent update actually mean?  In the midst of a disaster, that guidance is extremely vague, and as such, could you really expect compliance?  The IOC developed guidelines for social media that were short-sighted and considerably restrictive given that social media offers a forum for uninhibited public voice to many people.  Social media is here to stay, so a social media strategy and objectives that address how social media is integrated before, during, and after events/incidents is a must.  Citizens will expand the reach of messages and will be empowered to work together and with government assuming a proper, well thought-out, and explicit strategy is in place.  The big takeaways here are to develop a proactive strategy and keep up with emerging trends and platforms and how your audience is using them.


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As we all know, the role of wireless services in Americans’ everyday lives have progressed over the years, resulting in a reliance on these services for critical information. This has especially had an impact on the alerts and warnings community and the need to expand the breadth of the alerts and warnings “toolbox” to include vehicles for communication that leverage wireless services and devices to receive timely information on the go, often when other resources may be unavailable. Tools such as the Commercial Mobile Alert Service (CMAS), also known as Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), are helping to expand these wireless capabilities within the alerts and warnings community by helping consumers to receive emergency alerts through their wireless phones.

With this increased reliance on wireless services, especially in emergency situations, comes the importance of public-private partnerships between stakeholders in the alerts and warnings community. Continue reading »

Do you have FM in your cellphone?

On July 13, 2012, in CMAS & Mobile Alerts, General, News, by with SRA International

A lot of us don’t give having an FM radio receiver in our mobile device a second thought, but for those caught up in the recent storms and ensuing power outages having FM available in their cellphones could have been a lifeline. So says the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB), which has been advocating for FM in mobile devices for years.

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