Reverse 911

Ken AshfordDisastersLeave a Comment

Not much to say about the terrible fires in California.  It’s all very sad.  But this underreported aspect to it caught my eye:

Our posting about the wildfires mentions that officials in San Diego used "reverse 911" calls to notify residents that they had to evacuate. We hadn’t heard of this practice. Thankfully, Debi Jones at Mobile Messaging 2.0 knows about the technology.

"The disastrous fires burning in San Diego have initiated a service used by the city and county government to inform and update residents. Mandatory evacuation orders have been communicated via reverse 911 on both landline phones and mobile phones," she writes. "The messages are prerecorded and as I’ve said, three messages have been received on my phone. The first was an evacuation order. The next message was a notice that San Diego schools are closed until further notice along with the instruction to keep children inside and restrict their activity levels (smoke and ash is so thick in the air that keeping it out of your house is impossible during large fires). The third message was information on evacuation centers that were still open as several are already full."

County officials estimate, based on census data, that their calls have reached more than 500,000 people.

Wired reports that these calls aren’t reaching everyone. "Those who rely on VoIP or cell phones exclusively are also out of the loop, because the system doesn’t know to call them. But the city has a website where residents can register a non-landline number and associate it with their address. It’s been up and down," the publication says.

Wired says some residents have taken to calling their home phone to see if their answering machine picks up. If it does, the house is still standing and the juice is still flowing.

Also, it looks like Twitter is coming into its own with the San Diego fires as the "front line" up-to-the-minute source.