Telephone and Network Alert Systems for Community Engagement

Numerous governments and non-profits share information with their constituents by using telephone Alert Systems (TAS) and Network Alert Systems (NAS). Some common brands are Reverse 911® and AtHoc™. Most jurisdictions use their TAS/NAS as a one-way communication tool to share lifesaving information, or to share announcements that they believe is important for the recipient. Most systems have the capability to have the recipients respond to the messages provided. This could be a simple as pressing the corresponding number to a list of predetermined responses or interactions that are more complicated.

Most TAS and NAS systems are capable of making multiple notifications over a wide variety of communication technologies from one operator control software. In addition to making automated telephone calls, most systems can also send text messages, emails, Facebook posts, Twitter tweets, website updates, and computer popups on internal networks. Systems can also be connected to outdoor sirens, message marquee boards, giant voice speakers, public address systems, and other fixed systems.

Most public safety agencies are leery of using these systems for what may be viewed as mundane engagement opportunities out of fear of the target audiences becoming desensitized to potential lifesaving notifications. Dedicated emergency notification systems such as Reverse 911® and UNC Chapel Hill’s Alerts Carolina should be retained as emergency notification systems, but local governmental jurisdictions and large non-profits may want to explore using similar systems to help provide outreach opportunities.

Many school districts use similar systems to provide messages to parents and staff for things such as delayed reporting, early releases, upcoming events, and other announcements. Messages can be targeted to any attributes listed in the system such as parents of specific grade levels, classes, bus routes, sports team memberships, or any other data associated with the student, parents, or staff.

One of the biggest problems of using these tools for engagement is data management for the system. While organizations can use existing databases to develop contact lists, many government systems depend on some system of self-registration of members of the public. Organizations can purchase lists of ‘land line’ phone numbers (white page listings) within their jurisdiction, but these lists can be outdated and do not include cell phone numbers.

Community engagement opportunities using a TAS/NAS system are only limited by the technological capabilities of the system configurations, the imagination of the system administrators, and the willingness of the recipients’ to engage through the system.


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