The challenge of quickly notifying a large number or group of people located in different areas has not changed over the years, but the methods used for mass notification certainly has evolved over time. Lets look at that maturation of mass notification methods and systems as they have changed throughout history.
Word of Mouth
Church Bells, Town Criers and men on horseback would alert townspeople of important news items. On April 18, 1775 Paul Revere, William Dawes and Samuel Prescott and a host of others spread the word through a series of signal lanterns in churches throughout the Boston area that the "British were coming". While Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem "Paul Revere's Ride" may have embellished some of the facts of the ride, the intent conveyed in the poem is accurate. A system of mass notification was deployed to warn settlers in the Boston area of Britian's plans.
While not what we would consider "timely" by todays standards. Newspapers were an easy and effective way to notify the masses over a large area of important news items.
In the early 1900s sirens gradually began to replace bells for early warning systems. In 1939 Air Raid Sirens played a prominent role in warning residents of Europe about impending air attacks during World War II. Air Raid Sirens were later implemented as a system to warn residents of an impending nuclear attack and possible natural disasters such as tornados or impending tsunamis. Sirens were also frequently used in small rural towns to assemble volunteer call firefighters in the event of a fire.
Once landline telephones became common place. Communities would often implement phone trees. Traditional phone trees were not the automated menu systems of the same name, that are common place today. A phone tree was a community based pre-planned mass notification system. A designated individual would receive notification of important news, they would contact two-individuals. Each of those two individuals would in-turn notify specific designated individuals passing the news item along, and it would continue on until all members of the community were notified. Believe it or not, we still see forms of the traditional community based phone tree today. Think about when someone is injured or hospitalized, rather than the "point person" contacting every family member, the point person will often keep in touch with a few close family members or friends, those family members or friends will continue to disseminate information to extended family members or other friends keeping them up to date with any changes. While less structured than the original phone trees, community or family phone trees are still used as mass notification systems.
The 1930s were known as the Golden Age of Radio. Radio broadcasters would interrupt their broadcasts to bring listeners important information, notifying the masses of information that they felt was important.
After World War II and in the 1950s televisions became more common and prevalent in the United States. As a result of the televisions popularity it quickly became a method for communicating news quickly to the masses. Very much like radio, television stations would interrupt their programming to notify their audience of what they deemed critical news.
Control of Electro Magnetic Radiation
Control of Electro Magnetic Radiation or CONELRAD was implemented in 1951 by the U.S. government. CONELRAD had a single purpose, to convey news of an enemy attack during the Cold War to the general public. It was intended to allow continuous broadcast of civil defense information using radio stations, while rapidly switching the transmitter stations to make the broadcasts unsuitable for Soviet bombers that might attempt to intercept the signals. Prior to CONELRAD the US Government did not have any formal systematic way to reach the general public in the event of an emergency
Emergency Broadcast System
In 1963 the Emergency Broadcast System replaced CONELRAD as an emergency warning system in the United States. The Emergency Broadcast System or EBS was an expeditious method of communicating with the American public in the event of war, threat of war, or grave national crisis. Although the EBS was never used for a national emergency, it was activated more than 20,000 times between 1976 and 1996 to broadcast civil emergency messages and severe weather warnings. The alerts would be broadcast over radio and television stations.
Digital Signage has been effectively used to convey emergency alerts and evacuation procedures. The digital signs are highly visible and can be updated with the current information quickly. Digital Signage also has the advantage of reaching those in transit, who may not have a radio to television nearby.
In 1993 a Reverse 911 System was developed. The Reverse 911 system uses a database of telephone numbers and associated physical addresses to deliver recorded messages with emergency information. The emergency mass notification phone calls were placed to a select set of telephone service subscribers in a specific geographical area.
Amber Alerts while they convey a specific type of message and information. Amber Alerts are nonetheless a form of mass notification. Amber Alerts were established in 1996 as a system of quickly notifying community members about a missing/abducted child who is in imminent danger. Amber Alerts are named after Amber Hagerman, a 9 year old girl who was abducted and murdered in Arlington, Texas in 1996. AMBER is also an acronym for America's Missing Broadcast Emergency Response. Amber Alerts have matured and now the AMBER alert mass notification are sent out using a variety of channels
Emergency Alert System
In 1997 the Emergency Broadcast System (EBS) became the Emergency Alert System. The Emergency Alert System or EAS is a national warning system in theUnited States. Similar to EBS the EAS was primarily designed to allow the president to address the country via all radio and television stations, in the event of a national emergency. The EAS is more commonly used to notify residents of imminent threats to public safety, severe weather situations or other civic emergencies.
Wireless Emergency Alerts
In 2013 the Wireless Emergency Alerts were added to Emergency Alert System. Participating wireless carriers broadcast the emergency mass notifications to their subscribers delivering the messages/notifications to the subscribers cell phones. Wireless Emergency Alerts can include three different types of alerts: alerts issued by the President, alerts involving imminent threats to safety of life, and AMBER Alerts.
With the maturation of mass notification, messages are conveyed through a multitude of channels. No longer does the general public rely on church bells or word of mouth, today mass notification alerts are sent using a variety of means including: television, radio, landline telephones, digital signage, and cell phones.
Article Date: August 25, 2020