5 Strategies for Getting the Public to Sign Up for Emergency Alerts

Incentives and opting out can be effective ways to get public buy-in for alert notifications.

by / October 3, 2014

One of the challenges of developing a community that’s resilient to disaster is getting citizens to sign up for alert notifications. For example, a year after Itawamba County, Miss., deployed an emergency notification system, 25 percent of households had signed up to receive it. That’s considered good. Really good.

In fact, getting residents to sign up for any number of emergency services is difficult for a multitude of reasons. Some people are averse because of the privacy and security implications and are afraid to share personal information. And some of it is that people just tune out when it comes to the gruesome nature of preparing for a disaster.

But there are strategies to maximize the buy-in from residents. Ana-Marie Jones, executive director of the nonprofit agency Collaborating Agencies Responding to Disasters (CARD), shared her favorite ways for getting buy-in from the public:

Lose the scary message

“Fear isn’t a sustainable emotion,” she said. “You can scare people into doing simple things but it doesn’t last very long.” A better strategy is to make people feel as if they are included in something important.

Jones said it’s important to remember that you’re trying to sign up people to receive bad news, something they don’t really want to think about. Blasting the message that “You’d better sign up for this or bad things will happen” is counterproductive. “We spend so much money on blasting to everyone the scattergun message basically saying horrible things are going to happen, find out about it soon,” she said. “It’s really not as compelling as you might think.”

Go for empowerment, Jones said. “Picture people who are feeling as if they are connected and smart and wise is so much better than fear-based messaging.”

Offer incentives

Incentivize it during meetings. “Anytime there is a community gathering and you can get people to step up and [sign up] give them a prize for doing it,” Jones said. And it doesn’t have to be an expensive prize, people just like getting things. “You’d be astounded at the things people are willing to do if they got a prize.” She said at certain preparedness functions agencies with which CARD has worked have had people program preparedness messages into their phones on the spot for the prize of a whistle.

Allow opting out

Whenever possible, give people the option of opting out, not the other way around. When it comes to organ donation in other countries, those given the option of declining will do so less than 20 percent of the time. On the other hand, when it’s an opt-in strategy just a few sign up.

Jones recommended the book, Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness, which talks about strategies for getting people to do what’s healthy for them.

Share success stories

Share some shameless success stories and make them specific and clear. “Things like, ‘Wow, this person got a notification and was able to do such and such. This many residents got the message and no one was left behind; everyone evacuated successfully.”’ In other words, give people something they can visualize, something that they can see as having been a success.

Normalize it, socialize it

Getting a trusted partner to work with on outreach can be highly successful. “Having a senior agency, for example, have as part of its intake process, seniors sign up for notifications,” Jones said. “I can’t even begin to express the difference it would make if we just looked at that as a primary mechanism for how we engage our communities. It would be a safe and trusted person helping someone to do these things that are beneficial.”
 

This story was originally published by Emergency Management

Jim McKay Contributing Editor

Jim McKay is the editor of Emergency Management magazine. He lives in Orangevale, Calif., with his daughter, Ellie, and son, Ronan. He relaxes by fly fishing on the Truckee River for big, wild trout.