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  • DC Alerts Does It Again

    Posted on June 9th, 2009 Brian No comments

    I am really not intending to make this blog a running commentary on DC Alerts, but sometimes my hand just gets forced.  Though my last post on the issue was a bit tongue in cheek, my first post was leveled a serious criticism: DC Alerts needs to better train its operators about both when to send an alert and what to say in an alert.

    A line of thunderstorms rolled through DC this morning, and upon waking I discovered an alert in my inbox.  Though the timing and purpose is fine, the content is – shall we say – questionable.  (Highlight mine.)

    Subect: Alert DC – Severe Weather Watch

    NWS issued a Severe Thunder Storm WATCH for the District from 05:55 06/09/09 to 06:45 06/09/09 . Please add_protective_actions_here .

    This is just embarrassing.  Stupidity like this lessens the impact and usefulness of the system, and threatens the safety of the community.  The problem is entirely a human one, and it needs to be fixed.

  • DC Alerts Is Ready For the Zombie Apocalypse

    Posted on June 6th, 2009 Brian No comments

    Zombie Emergency KitI was pretty harsh on DC Alerts in my last post.  And I stand by that.  But say what I might about DC Alerts, I do have to give them props for one thing: They are ready for the Zombie Apocalypse.

    If you’ve ever gotten an alert where a person might have been injured, the phrase “conscious and breathing” is often used to describe their state. It’s a curious turn of phrase, and makes one imagine the other possible permutations.  A nice table will be helpful here.

    Conscious Unconscious
    Breathing OK Just Unconscious
    Not Breathing Zombie Dead

    As you can see, DC Alerts really has their bases covered!  Hopefully, with their help, I’ll increase my odds of surviving.

    In Case Of Zombies by Drunken Monkey used under a CC-BY-NC license.

  • DC Alerts Needs To Take Its Role Seriously

    Posted on June 5th, 2009 Brian No comments

    The idea behind Alert DC’s text-messaging/email alert system is a good one: Broadcast information about emergency situations to interested and/or affected parties using a low-latency, high-value medium.  The technical implementation is slick, too, allowing you to pick the type of alerts you receive (traffic, weather, police alerts, etc.); and permitting you to limit the alerts you receive to geographical areas of interest to you (neighborhood, schools, by address, etc.).

    Unfortunately, though the concept and implementation of DC Alerts is pretty nice, the people using it have turned the system into a joke.  Let’s dissect a recent example:

    Subject: Weather Report Update

    Weather report update: Light to moderate rain will fall across the area through tomorrow morning.  The thunderstorms are well to the South of the District. NWS states that the heaviest rain will be in the area towards day break. Expect rainfall amounts through to the morning will range from one to two inches. WASA will have additional crews checking catch basins until the morning. DPW has provided 45 sandbags to the resident. DDOT have no problems to report.

    Let’s take this point-by-point:

    • It’s raining, and there’s severe weather, but not here.
    • The water company is doing its job, and has crews out cleaning catch basins.
    • Somebody got some sandbags.
    • There’s nothing wrong with the streets.

    Let’s see if I can summarize this in a Twitter-esque 140 characters or less:

    Alert! Everything’s OK! (Except for this one random dude someplace, and we got him some sandbags.)

    When you put it that way, it’s suddenly very clear that this does not qualify as an alert-worthy event.  Nor do most of the other so-called alerts we get.  To add insult to injury, the messages we receive from DC Alerts are often riddled with spelling errors, grammar mistakes, ridiculous descriptions, and geography snafus.

    The DC Alerts system has great potential to become a powerful emergency-communications tool for the hyper-connected world we live in.  But it will never be taken seriously until the human beings using it dramatically ramp up both the quality and the relevance of the messages.