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Adapting to the storm: Perspectives on hurricane response from county, university, and military leaders

What does the future hold for reverse 911 alerts?

“Reverse 911” is a general term that describes a process frequently used to contact citizens and businesses by matching a telephone number with an address. The term is commonly used as a verb (ex. The town reverse 911 called citizens), an adjective (ex. The town bought a new reverse 911-type system for citizen call outs), or a noun (ex. The town purchased reverse 911 today.).


Many people do not realize that when they dial 911 on a landline phone, their location is displayed to the operator taking the call. This process is known as “reverse lookup” and allows an emergency dispatcher to quickly determine the caller’s location. The operator can also dispatch help to the address and proceed with emergency response even if the call is disconnected or the caller is unable to speak due to a medical emergency or threat.


But what happens if a caller uses a smartphone? That’s the problem affecting many people today.


According to a 2012 report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 55% of American households with residents between the ages of 15 and 24 years old do not have a home phone. As more households choose smartphones over landline phones, fewer people are receiving reverse 911 calls. Instead, they’re opting for alternate contact methods such as email, SMS, and text.


The Impact of Citizen Opt-In

“Citizen Opt-In” is used by many cities and towns nationwide. By simply going to a municipality’s website, a citizen can enter various communication paths so he or she can be reached in emergencies.


For the past few years, citizen opt-in portals have been popping up on various municipal websites, making it easy for people to add multiple contact paths. Meanwhile, the implementation of these systems corresponds with the rising demand for new and more personal ways of receiving communications.


As a new, content-hungry generation emerges, more people expect to be informed. When it comes to life-threatening situations, it is an expectation of the population to be notified immediately via several contact paths.


City and town citizen opt-in portals help ensure that people receive multi-modal emergency notifications, but why doesn’t every individual make sure that he or she is in the information loop?


It is the process of locating and communicating with the wandering citizen that I will discuss in upcoming posts.

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