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Posted on October 3, 2018

3 Tips to Increase Awareness of Your Text-to-911 Program

Of the many challenges that PSAPs face, the list has to include the ability to get the word out to the community when rolling out a text-to-911 awareness program. Limited staff and budgets can hamstring even the best marketers, so I have to ask myself: How do resource-strapped PSAPs execute community outreach in a way that makes texting to 911 the most effective tool it can be in the right situations?

There are excellent resources on the web, including NENA’s comprehensive Text-to-911 Public Education Plan guide. But in the case of 911, any extra exposure you can generate has the potential to cascade down to dozens, hundreds and, potentially, thousands of individuals in your community. Here are 3 tips to give your text-to-911 communication program an additional boost for reaching your audience.

Tip #1: Steal from the Best

Both Picasso and Mark Twain have been attributed with expressing more or less this sentiment: There are no original ideas, just variations on a theme.

You can apply this concept to your program by looking at how other PSAPs are getting the word out about text-to-911. These will be your single best source for inspiration and best practices because other agencies – in large urban areas as well as smaller, rural jurisdictions -- who have already brought text-to-911 to their communities have very likely thought of things you haven’t. A quick Google search yielded a few tactics to try:

  • With a smartphone, good lighting and a steady hand, you can record a brief (less than 3 minutes) video announcing service availability along with some guidelines for use of the system. Share this video through social media, YouTube and your website.
  • Social media engagement is higher when messages are received from a trusted source. Encourage your agency’s staff to share announcements from your social platforms with their networks. You could even gamify it by holding a contest for most likes, click or shares.
  • Include first responders including police, fire and paramedics in your communications and remind them the value of sharing this information through their daily interactions.
  • In addition to a press release, invite local media outlets (TV, radio and newspapers) to tour your facilities and learn about your text capabilities.
  • Request that TV stations air any coverage about text-to-911 availability using Open Caption, which displays the full transcript of audio to all viewers including the deaf-and-hard-of-hearing.
  • Consider the following high traffic venues for posting and/or distributing printed flyers (just remember that printed materials should always be as short and concise as possible):
    • Mental health and rehabilitation facilities
    • Veteran’s agencies (local VA, VFW, etc.)
    • Schools and universities (including charter schools catering to the Deaf and Hard of Hearing)
    • Women’s shelters
    • Community and recreation centers
    • Theaters
    • Farmer’s and flea markets, as well as local events
    • Local businesses and shopping malls
    • Retirement and 55+ communities

Tip #2: Building Public Awareness is Not a Race. It’s a Journey.

If you announced your text-to-911 program last month and a local TV station picked it up during the 5 o’clock news, fantastic. Unfortunately, it’s likely that only a very small percentage of the people you need to reach actually saw that segment.

The “Rule of Seven” in marketing states that that audiences need exposure to a message at least seven times before absorbing it and taking action. This is why modern marketers embrace “omnichannel” tactics that ensure the consistent delivery of their messages over time across every available platform: website, social media, print media, etc.

In addition, outreach should not be just a single event. Good marketing is akin to having a conversation—it should occur over time and you should be prepared to adjust your plan depending on the response from the community.

For instance, you may start with general announcements about availability of the service, along with the guidelines for usage. After a few weeks or months, as you see the text volume and the transcripts of messages coming in, you may decide it’s time to refine your message to clarify when it’s appropriate to text 911 and, just as importantly, when it’s not. If you have the resources, you may realize that in-person interactions such as visits to senior centers and schools, particularly near the start of the school year, are beneficial for spreading the word.

It’s perfectly acceptable if the focus of your message, the frequency and the channels evolve over time--which leads me to my third and final tip.

Tip #3: Measure Your Progress

Anecdotal feedback from your staff is critical, but so is hard data and statistics. You can use reporting to gather insights about whether your community is responding in the right way to your efforts. Did volume increase for a time then plummet after a local TV station aired an announcement? You may need to reach out to them in a few months to propose a follow up story. Has volume steadily increased over time, but largely from abuse of the system? You may need to adjust the messaging to address the impact and penalties for this behavior. Are call takers missing or not responding to some texts? You may need to look at additional training within your PSAP.

Reporting solutions such as ECaTS’s Text-to-911 module can help you understand how text is performing both in your PSAP and your community and where your current communications may be falling short. You can review text transcripts to adjust either internal training, public awareness or both.

One Final Thought on Text-to-911 Capabilities

For a variety of reasons, you may not be ready to announce text-to-911 availability but that doesn’t mean you should wait to begin communicating with your community. Many smartphone users believe they can text to 911 anytime, so your initial messaging may need to focus simply on news about plans and timelines for availability of the service in the future. Again, every communication touch point creates just a little extra insurance that your community will react quickly and appropriately when they need 911.

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