The emergency notification system for Tucson, AZ has been deactivated due to budget cuts according to several media sources. The Tucson Police Department’s Automated Emergency Notification System (AENS) was used to warn citizens of danger or critical situations by telephone, text/SMS, email and fax. The system was funded through the Tucson Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) from DHS. However, with recent deep cuts to the DHS budget and subsequent changes to the UASI program, funding is no longer available to sustain the notification effort.
What is a local agency to do when its notification program is in danger of being cut? Here are just a few brief thoughts:
Seek alternative local funding. Easier said than done, we know, but our research tells us citizens REALLY like the security of knowing officials can notify them in an emergency. They also follow the lead of local emergency managers and officials, so if continued funding is a big deal to public safety professionals, it is likely to be a big deal to citizens. Don’t lose hope in finding the money through local revenues.
Pursue other grants. Upcoming guidance for some traditional public safety grant sources will specifically allow for funding of notification services/systems. You’ll want to make sure your solution is Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) compliant, as the language is crafted to incentivize adoption of this standard.
Seek a sponsor. This can be a bit tricky--perhaps even impossible in some municipalities due to local regulations. However, we have seen creative public/private partnerships work with just a little creative thinking. You should avoid a “this catastrophe brought to you by Acme” feel. However, finding a local merchant(s) to provide funding may be the ticket for continuing a valuable program.
Make use of EAS. EAS may be used for situations other than dangerous weather conditions. With increasing frequency, we see local emergency managers recognizing and appreciating the role broadcasters play in warning citizens. Pursue this with greater vigor.
Make use of social media. Tucson officials provide an example here as they are recommending citizens sign up to receive alerts through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. It’s not the most effective or targeted way to alert people, but it’s certainly a low-cost option that should be utilized.
Obviously, it disturbs us to see the elimination of a critical program geared toward alerting and warning the public. We suspect other agencies around the country are struggling with similar funding issues. Here’s hoping creative solutions can be found to keep notification programs going in the midst of significant financial pressures.