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Last week we discussed how smaller mobile devices have made it cheaper and easier for public security and field services workers to do their jobs efficiently. And, how as an added benefit, citizens have become more engaged and are taking some of the burden off of governments. This week we are going to take a closer look at how to effectively reach your citizens to ensure maximum engagement.

Does Your Reach Extend as Far as You Think it Does?

You create a website, you publish brochures, you invite the press, but do you really know how many of your citizens you reach when it really matters? In an emergency like an earthquake, severe thunderstorms, or a flash flood, how do know you have reached them? How about reaching your own staff abroad, or your most important suppliers?

When power is out and landlines and the internet are down, mobile networks show their strength – you can use them to broadcast important information. Some emergency management applications for mobile networks allow you to take it a step further and inquire: Do you need help? Can you move on your own? Are you trained in first aid? Are you available, can you help us out? The mobile lifeline can help save lives. In 2011, mobile networks statistically had the best reach among all available channels. Every US citizen uses at least one mobile phone, and globally, mobile phones are the most pervasive technology, reaching 5.6 of about 7 billion people.

Texting as a Means of Mass Communication

Texting (SMS) is being used by at least 75% of mobile phone users (it does require some level of literacy). Bart Perkins asserts that “95% of all text messages are opened and read,” (Source). He highlights the advantages of location-aware messaging. “Phones automatically track positioning coordinates, allowing people to receive text messages targeted to their specific location.” This also allows government to target only the people likely to be affected by the emergency, further increasing the likelihood they prepare accordingly.

Compared to paper communications or phone calls, SMS messaging is a low-cost  channel,  “requiring  no printing, postage or human intervention.” SMS messaging provides  a  “huge  speed  and  efficiency  gain  over  other forms of notification” and is “significantly less expensive than  reaching  customers  through  newspapers,  radio,  TV, e-mail or direct mail,” (Source). Texting allows for a high degree of automation in the systems of emergency management services. States like New York have used a mobile channel for texting for years (www.nyalert.gov). There are 160 different categories and events within NY-Alert, from an amber alert to a broken pipe to a transportation issue. NY-Alert provides “New Yorkers with information so that they will understand the risks and threats that they may face and know how to respond accordingly,” (Source). “During one of the winter storms that hit New York City and surrounding counties, we sent one million text messages in 15 minutes, along with 388,000 phone calls and 4 million e-mails. The system never hiccupped,” stated Kevin Ross, CIO and Assistant Director for Technology, New York State Emergency Management Office. Ross also stressed how this technology is inherently inclusive: “For special needs populations, we could send messages as audio .wav files via MMS instead of straight texts,” (Source). The State of New York is not alone in this. In 2011, FEMA and some other federal agencies started to offer similar mobile texting-based services (Source).

So the question is, do your communication efforts reach as far as you think they do? If you aren’t already using SMS messaging, then chances are that they probably do not and your reach could be extended.

Check back with us next week for a discussion on mobile transactions and how they can transform governments.

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