Why Emergency Alerts Are Your Friend
Last week, what was supposed to have been a routine test alert sent by the Alberta government turned into a mess when people got a half a dozen messages instead of one.
It left me wondering why this is even a story and if it's just another example of social media making something much bigger than it should be?
Last Wednesday, I was working in my home office when my phone went off. It was the now somewhat familiar sound of the Alberta Emergency Alert. I knew the test was coming, so from experience, I quickly looked at my phone to see it was the expected test, turned off the volume and went back to work.
Seconds later, I got another alert. This time the phone only vibrated because I had turned the volume off. Seconds after that, another test, followed by another and so on.
I was pretty sure there was some sort of a mistake, because in the past I only received one test message. I didn’t give it a lot of thought and kept writing.
A few minutes later, when I checked Twitter to see if there had been more trades in the NHL, there was a flood of messages about the ill-fated emergency test. It wasn’t surprising I guess, because people like to share their thoughts about these tests on Twitter. Some were funny, but most were from people who were annoyed they got several alerts.
My God people. If that’s all you have to complain about, don’t. Sure, these alerts can be annoying and I understand it’s only a test and not a real emergency, but how much effort does it take to turn the volume down on your phone?
The fix is simple. Pick up your phone, tap it with your right thumb and use your left thumb to turn the volume off. It took me two seconds and I’m sure it took people much longer to complain about it on Twitter.
These tests are necessary to make sure the system works when we need it. Think about how powerful it is to be able to instantly reach over 90% of the population if the need arises? It’s a valuable system and we need to make sure it works properly when we need it.
I’m sure whatever caused the glitch will be investigated and fixed.
This is Why We Do It
The fuss over the ill-fated test last week made me think of a couple of emergency tests from the past.
When I was News Director at 96 K-Lite radio in Edmonton, the provincial government did an annual day-long test of its emergency procedures. There would be a new focus every year, such as dealing with a chemical leak, or a massive fire.
We would get a news release inviting the media to a news conference that was held the same day as the emergency exercise. I put it in the advance folder for that day and if we had a reporter to cover the news conference we would, but since it wasn’t a high priority, sometimes we didn’t.
I always got a friendly call from the Emergency Response Director who was running the event to make sure we got the invitation and he asked if we’d be there. I was normally non-committal, but I felt bad for him because I knew how important the exercise was to him and the more media coverage he could get, it would look better to his bosses in government.
I remember assigning the news conference to a reporter one year and he wasn’t thrilled about covering it. He asked me, “Isn’t the government supposed to be ready for an emergency? Why is this news?” Good questions.
A couple of years later, Edmonton was hit by the Black Friday Tornado. 27-people were killed and over 300-were injured. A report issued several months later said the emergency response could have been better and there was poor communication. It likely would have been worse without the annual test runs.
I guess they do those exercises for a reason.
Losing the Room
Perhaps the funniest emergency alert story happened to me when I was doing media training for a national law firm in Vancouver several years ago.
It was an afternoon training session that started around 1pm, so I flew from Edmonton to Vancouver that morning and took the train from the airport to downtown, walked a few blocks to the building the law firm was in and arrived well before the session. But, I hadn’t heard about an emergency alert test planned for that afternoon, because it was only for BC.
Halfway through the media training, everyone’s phones started making that awful emergency alert sound. I had no idea why their phones were going off until I overheard somebody say “Oh yeah, they’re doing that emergency test today.”
What followed was comical. As people were turning their phones down or off, they started talking to each other.
“I didn’t get the message”
I did. Who do you get your phone plan from?
Well, I have Telus and I got the test.
I’m on Bell and I got it too.
I got it. I’m on Rogers.
This went on for a long time. I realized I had totally lost the room and getting people to concentrate on anything other than their phones would be a struggle. I called an audible and took the afternoon break a little early. When we resumed, calm had been restored.
That was one emergency alert I could have done without.
I was sorry to learn about the death of former CJCA morning man Jim Hault (pronounced Holt) over the weekend.
My parents listened to CJCA in the morning when I was young and in 1965, when the Edmonton Eskimos were a bad football team, Jim decided to live in the press box at Clarke Stadium until they won a game. It was a great promotional stunt, one of many Jim had in his legendary radio career that ended with stints at Vancouver’s biggest radio stations.
In August of ‘65, CJCA ran a contest for listeners to design a play that would help the Eskimos win and get Jim out of the press box. I drew up some sort of a double reverse, hook and ladder, flea flicker play and mailed it to the station. I got a call from CJCA telling me I won and would have to pick up my prize, a new football, from the press box where Jim was. I still remember meeting Jim after walking up the stairs at the stadium to the press box. It looked like Jim really was living there. I just had my 9th birthday.
Thanks for the memories Jim and RIP.
Agreed! It was quite comical watching people spend exponentially more time complaining, tweeting, texting and sharing memes about the alerts than was the total time that the actual multiple alerts inconvenienced them! :)