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How to Overcome Public Safety Challenges and Build Community Trust

State and local agencies experienced one of the most historic — and chaotic — years in 2020.

by Rave Media / March 10, 2021

Over 500,000 million Americans died from the coronavirus. A record-breaking 22 weather disasters impacted the U.S. Over 40 states reported an increase in opioid-related mortalities during the pandemic. Months of civil unrest.

The fallout from the pandemic has led to a myriad economic issues for millions of residents, including more than 50 million people, including 17 million children, who are experiencing food insecurity.

These crises are continuing into this year and, much like last year, state and local agencies will often need to manage them simultaneously. State and local public health agencies are rolling out vaccines to residents as officials combat the variants of COVID-19. Meanwhile, experts are still trying to figure out the long-term impact on residents’ mental health as they experience social distancing, isolation and other related matters. Record-breaking storms and cold temperatures, tornadoes, and wildfires have already impacted community members in most of the country. Local government officials and first responders are searching for different ways to respond to critical incidents.

Question of Trust Between Residents and State and Local Officials

Residents want to know what’s going on and what actions to take when an adverse event strikes, as well as stay updated. But it’s challenging for state and local agencies to get the information out to their communities. There are various ways for residents to receive information from local officials, including governors, mayors and public health leaders.

  • 64% of survey respondents receive information from the local media (newspapers and/or broadcast TV)
  • 42% of respondents learn from social media (e.g., Facebook and Twitter)
  • 25% hear about it from word-of-mouth

These were some of the findings from a survey commissioned by Rave Mobile Safety and conducted by the independent research firm Researchscape. The survey, 2021 Survey Report: Emergency Communication and Public Safety Trust, looked to gain a better understanding of some of the communication challenges facing state and local agencies. More than 1,000 adults across the country responded to the survey. These residents expressed their concerns about a myriad matters, including public safety, COVID-19, vaccines and how they receive information and updates in these areas.

Getting the message out is one of the more complex matters that emergency managers, public health personnel, 911 teams, first responders and government officials often tackle before, during and after an adverse event. Trusting the source of information is now a major hindrance for state and local agencies. False news stories are 70 percent more likely to be retweeted than true stories. Meanwhile, people spend about 64 seconds reading a fake news article, compared to only 42 seconds on a verified news story.

It’s challenging for officials to get their message out and encourage residents to trust that same message. Only 22 percent of respondents said they completely trust the information they receive from local officials, according to the Rave survey.

For these respondents, the topic matters when it comes to trusting the message from their state and local officials.

  • 31% completely trust updates about coronavirus guidelines
  • 37% completely or very confident in their state’s ability to distribute COVID-19 vaccinations
  • 51% completely trust these same officials when it comes to evacuation orders during severe weather

So how can state and local officials gain the trust of their community members? How can they break through the chaos and competing ways residents get their information? Survey respondents said there are ways for state and local officials to gain their trust.

  • 50% want to receive information directly from officials, rather than local media, social media or word-of-mouth
  • 34% want to receive details in the way they choose (e.g., text and email)
  • 27% want to have updates tailored to their specific needs and location

Tools to Build Trust With Residents

Preparing for and responding to a community in crisis is a complex undertaking. Keeping an entire community informed is essential for their safety, as well as the community’s successful recovery from an adverse event. It becomes even more important when these stakeholders have minutes, maybe even only seconds to respond.

A critical communication and collaboration platform will help those on the front lines collaborate and leverage their skills, expertise and resources to notify and protect community members more effectively. The comprehensive platform also helps these key stakeholders stay in the know about what’s happening, as well as what actions to take before, during and after a crisis. When these key stakeholders have the best tools to implement their plans, local government officials can build trust and disseminate critical communication to everyone in their community.

  • Tactical incident collaboration tool: Launch an incident response sequence, simultaneously alert respondents and assign tasks to appropriate responders. Tasks will be listed, show who they were assigned to, indicate the status of the tasks and display additional notes, providing incident commanders with a detailed timeline.
  • Mass notifications: Send messages out simultaneously through text, email, voice calls, social media, IPAWS and desktop alerts — all through a single launch point. It also automatically connects with devices, including public address systems and digital signage, through Common Alerting Protocol (CAP). Message templates can be set up ahead of time for any scenario, featuring details about the type of emergency and actions. Residents can receive messages in the modes and languages they prefer. Agencies and departments can communicate internally, as well as with others. Incident commanders can engage in two-way chat with field response teams, ensuring departments and agencies can scale up when the need arises.
  • Online personal safety profiles and vulnerable needs registry: Provides an in-depth view of community members, such as medications, transportation needs and other specifics. 911 telecommunicators can access residents’ information from personal safety profiles they created. Profile information may include their photos, the names of family members, home address and medical history. The data can be shared across agencies, so 911 teams and first responders will have a clear understanding of the resident in need. The registry’s interactive Web-based map interface allows administrators to develop search criteria by demographics or location to focus on a group or segment in need of assistance.
  • Dynamic polling: Gather responses and real-time location from a select group through voice calls, text and email. Administrators can organize the polling module’s responses into easy-to-read reports. Follow-up alerts can be automatically sent based on someone’s response and outline necessary next steps.
  • 911 integration: Allows those in need to instantly connect with 911 teams, first responders and necessary personnel simultaneously. Provides 911 teams with emergency type, location, key contact information, facility layout and emergency response plans when the platform’s mobile app is activated. It also automatically triggers mass notifications, digital signage and other physical security and IoT devices. Telecommunicators can send messages to on-site contacts as the incident unfolds. Telecommunicators and first responders have a detailed view of a building’s interior, including locked doors, access points and potential obstacles. 911 teams and first responders will have more awareness of a site, allowing them to react quicker and allocate the proper resources.

Protecting an entire community is complex and challenging. Having accurate information, reliable tools and an effective communication strategy allows all stakeholders responding to a critical event to stay connected. And technology that enables critical communication and incident collaboration can mean the difference between life and death. After all, the best outcome to protect community members is when safety is addressed as a collaborative exercise.

The Top 5 Public Safety Challenges: How to Protect an Entire Community in Today’s World

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