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Crying wolf: when emergency alerts stop being effective

Erica Sadun, @ericasadun
September 13, 2013
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Yesterday, I switched off all AMBER and Emergency iPhone Alerts in Settings > Notification Center. This followed a day and a night of flash flood warnings that started at 1 AM and continued until just after noon. [Erica is in Colorado, where recent wet weather has contributed to disastrous flooding. –Ed.]

In that time, I counted eight individual Emergency Alerts issued by the National Weather Service in my personal notification center. These included alerts in the middle of the night; alerts as I was in office buildings; and alerts while I was waiting for appointments or having meetings.

Since AT&T pushed out its Emergency Alert upgrade to support my iPhone 4S, I have received alerts for a variety of weather situations plus that abduction one from California. I cannot point to a single alert in my history that I considered necessary to receive on a phone rather than seeing on the TV or by hearing the local tornado alarms.

I cannot customize the alerts I hear. It's all on or all off for AMBER and/or emergency items. These alerts are loud, scary, intrusive and blunt.

I think my alert burnout is pretty human. When people get tired of alerts that aren't relevant, they're going to shut them off. Emergency alerts by their very nature should be few, important and effective. As is, they've become the spam of disaster preparedness.

And I've just sent mine to my virtual alert spam folder.

We posted a how-to on turning off your emergency alerts in July. Please consider the risks and benefits before changing this setting on your phone. –Ed.

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