In the uncertain times that we live in at the moment, it is useful to have warning systems in place to allow people to be ready to take whatever action is necessary at the time. Such systems have existed for various reasons for decades now, with most of them being used during the Second World War through air raid sirens and other audible signals to warn people to take cover due to an impending bombing run. Even today, the United States operates a text-based warning system which can trigger if a nuclear weapon is launched towards it. This system was mistakenly triggered a few years ago in a town in Hawaii, before it was then corrected, causing a lot of panic and disruption. Thus, it is important that these systems are used correctly and appropriately only when needed.
While the COVID-19 pandemic is not similar to a bomb or warhead, needing mass evacuation or emergency action, there is still value to having an emergency warning system in place to send out mass alerts and information. The town of Tonawanda in New York has been testing just this sort of system recently, where citizens received the following message – “Continue to keep you and your family safe from COVID-19. Follow CDCs simple steps: Know how COVID spreads, Wash hands often, Avoid close contact, Wear a mask in public, Cover coughs and sneezes, Clean/disinfect frequently touched surfaces. Learn more on the Town of Tonawanda website: https://www.tonawanda.ny.us/community/coronavirus-covid-19-updates.html”
This statement, in the form of a text message, was sent to all citizens early in the morning, but it was later confirmed that this was a training exercise gone wrong by the police. The Erie County Executive and the Erie County Emergency Services Commissioner had confirmed with the Town of Tonawanda Emergency Manager that the alert was mistakenly sent out during a police drill. The intention was to send out a ‘test’ alert, but an actual alert message was broadcast instead. The fact that this alert went out on September 11th, on the 19th anniversary of the terror attacks on the United States, inadvertently caused some panic and concern, and the Tonawanda Police Department apologized for this in their statement as well.
While this particular instance may have resulted in an erroneous transmission, it still shows how valuable such a broadcast system can be, especially in today’s age where everyone is online always. Such new technologies and services are our future, and will increasingly be adopted as time goes on. In a world where companies have had to go online to survive, for example, with gambling companies setting up online slots to keep their customer base intact, a warning system such as this which can allow large groups of people to be notified simultaneously is invaluable. The system used by the Tonawanda police department operates using cellular signals and not a specific list of names or phone numbers, so everyone in a particular defined area with a cellphone will get the alert, regardless of whether they are a citizen of the town or not. The intention of the system is to deliver public messages to large groups of people simultaneously, in a defined area or location.
With the various natural disasters that have been occurring across the US as well – wildfires on the west coast and numerous hurricanes moving towards the east coast, it is all the more necessary that other counties and states in the country also set up and test similar broadcast systems, to allow for critical information to be disseminated quickly and effectively when needed.