Palo Alto Pancake Case Raises Question About Alerting Systems

Call it a symptom of the digital age, but Palo Alto Fire Chief Eric Nickel is having to answer some uncomfortable questions about the appropriateness of using a county-wide emergency alerting system to advertise a pancake fundraiser.

The community alerting system sends text messages, emails, and phone calls to those who subscribe to receive emergency notifications. Its use to inform subscribers of the fundraiser has left some residents questioning whether such use is a good idea.

Erica Schroeder, who between herself and her husband received two phone calls, an email and a text message about the pancake fundraiser, was quoted as saying "If they use this too much, the value of the system goes down.

Her question raises an issue that goes beyond emergency alerting systems – and impacts fire departments who make extensive use of social media outlets to connect to residents: how much is too much? How many Twitter Alerts can a fire department send out before people stop paying attention… or worse… unsubscribe? Is one a day too many… one a week… one a month? Do we need tiered alerts… perhaps with a category of alerts for routine information and another reserved solely for true emergencies?

Here is a link to more on the story including a video I was not able to embed.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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