U.S. Mayor Article

Best Practices: Efficient Crisis Communication Is Just a Phone Call Away

By Mayor Wellington E. Webb
January 20, 2003


In today's information age, a plethora of technologies, data sources, mapping applications and other resources are available to help emergency managers respond to crisis situations. But the most effective tools in the emergency manager's toolbox should be a powerful and wide-reaching communication system that marries together all these technologies.

Today's public expects immediate, timely, detailed information and warnings about situations that affect them and instructions on how to respond. In fact, a recent study commissioned by the National Crime Prevention Council noted that emergency managers from all levels of government rated the need for improved emergency alert and warning notifications as high on their list of priorities that need to be improved in response to homeland security threats.1

Broadcast alerts, sirens, door-to-door notifications all play a role in alerting the public but emergency managers need a tool that will allow them to rapidly deliver detailed instructions to targeted segments of the public, something these other methods simply do not do well.

Broadcast alerts are untargeted (hence the term "broad-cast") and effective delivery is predicated on having the TV or radio on when the alert goes out. Sirens lack the ability to deliver specific information. Door-to-door notifications take valuable resources away from addressing the problem at hand and may even put first responders directly in harms way. Plus, the overtime costs associated with having numerous police officers or fire fighters going door-to-door can quickly reach into the thousands of dollars.

With these very questions in mind the City and County of Denver was an early adopter of using the wireline telephone network as an effective emergency notification tool. Our public safety officials have had IntelliCast Target Notification from Intrado, Inc at their disposal since December of 2000.

Operating like 9-1-1 in reverse, Denver officials are able to select an affected area, record a situation-specific message, and send that message to thousands of telephones within the affected area within minutes. And because more than 94 percent of the population nationwide can be reached by wireline phone, this emergency notification method is far more comprehensive than other alternatives.

The result is an informed public; armed with precisely the information they need to respond appropriately for their own protection and keep them out of harm's way so public safely personnel can do their jobs.

Most recently, on October 10, 2002, we used the system to call more than 2,000 residences within a specific radius of a specific address, advising citizens to stay in their homes due to an armed and barricaded suspect in a densely populated residential area. Completed in minutes, no other method of emergency notification available could have given us the degree of precision and thoroughness as our telephone notification system.

The service that Denver uses (IntelliCast Target Notification from Intrado) is unique for several reasons.

Accurate source data

First, Denver's system uses extracts of 9-1-1 telephone number data exclusively. This is critical, as the system's ability to contact as much of the intended citizenry as possible is only as good as the source data used to make the calls. In the case of 9-1-1 data, as opposed to data from other less complete sources, it is the only source to include unlisted and unpublished numbers. In some areas of the country unlisted numbers alone can account for more than one out of every two telephone records. With 9-1-1 data as the source, Denver is able to keep its emergency outbound calling database as complete and accurate as its inbound 9-1-1 database.

Daily record updates

Intrado, the suppliers of Denver's service, maintains and updates Denver's emergency outbound calling database daily. This is the best way to ensure the outbound database accounts for the thousands of telephone number and address changes due to recent customer moves, the addition of new phone lines, the build out of new residential developments, and other frequent changes that occur daily. If left unmanaged these records would only be as accurate as the last update. With daily updates, Denver's system is as accurate as it can possibly be, every single day of the year.

Precise event targeting

Intrado geocodes (assigns a specific geographic location to) every single telephone record in our database. This is critical as it gives our emergency managers the high level of flexibility they need to call exactly those citizens needed, no more and no less. Without this component there is the possibility of calling either too many, too few citizens, or the wrong population, all of which represent potentially disastrous consequences.

Service-based for maximum flexibility

Denver's system operates as an offsite service that authorized users access by any telephone or the Internet. This way, we can take advantage of IntelliCast's high capacity calling platform to place thousands of calls in minutes, from any location without having to devote our valuable resources to owning and maintaining an on site system.

High calling capacity

The most accurate information is nothing without the ability to use it for rapid call-outs. Denver's system uses Intrado's thousands of dedicated ports, providing enough capacity to place thousands of calls in minutes. In any crisis situation, time is the enemy and the speed with which we can get the right information to the right people helps us win this fight for time.

For any city considering adding emergency telephone notification to their emergency notification strategy I recommend any system include the following capabilities at minimum.

    1. The most accurate and up-to-date telephone number data available

    2. Regularly managed and updated data for maximum accuracy

    3. Geocoded telephone numbers for maximum precision

    4. Service based for low total cost of ownership and maximum system redundancy

    5. Capacity to place thousands of calls in minutes

With a system built upon these capabilities your city's emergency managers will gain a powerful tool that can augment existing emergency notification procedures to be prepared for any kind of crisis situation.

1 The Wirthlin Report Building the Homeland Security Network: What will it take?, page 5

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