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White Paper

Breaking Down Barriers to Effective Emergency Notifications

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Table of Contents Preparing Before Disaster Strikes

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What is Emergency Notification? PAGE 4 Emergency Notification Barriers PAGE 4 Damaged Equipment

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Lack of First Responder Communications PAGE 5 Incorrect Contact Information PAGE 5 One-to-One Contact Too Slow

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Inadequate Systems PAGE 6 Common Alerting Protocol Readiness

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Ineffective Emergency Sirens PAGE 6 No Single Point of Registration PAGE 6 Lack of Survey Capabilities PAGE 6 Meeting Needs of Special Needs Citizens PAGE 7 Role/Responsibility-based Communication PAGE 7 Poor Public Knowledge of ENS PAGE 7

What to Look for in an Emergency Notification System

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Public Sector Expertise PAGE 8 Easy to Use PAGE 8 Consider Special Needs Citizens PAGE 8 Wired and Wireless

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Multiple Communication Channels PAGE 9 Follows CAP Guidelines PAGE 9 Role/Responsibility-based Communications PAGE 10 Gain Subscribers and Boost Participa tion PAGE 10 Handling Large Capacities of Calls PAGE 11 Work with the Phone Companies PAGE 11

Conclusion PAGE 11 End Notes PAGE 12 About GovDelivery PAGE 13

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Breaking Down Barriers to Effective Emergency Notifications

During an Emergency, the Best Defense is a Great Offense Preparing Before Disaster Strikes As a government employee, one of the many roles you play is that of authority figure during an emergency. Whether it’s a pileup on a freeway, a hurricane or other force of nature, or a man-made disaster, such as a bomb or nuclear meltdown, you have a responsibility and obligation to keep the public informed and safe when disaster strikes. You have a mission to deliver information people want to know when they need the information most. The Department of Homeland Security has taken a look at a variety of organizations that focus on mass notification and emergency notification systems. One 2008 report produced by Illinois-based CDW-Government, “This is a Test — This is Only a Test: Updating America’s Emergency Alert Infrastructure,” found that one third of U.S. residents have no knowledge of, or experience with, their local emergency notification program. The study also noted a deep divide between how Americans consume information and how government disseminates information in cases of emergency. While wireless subscribers in America are at an all-time high and billions of text messages are sent by U.S. residents, local governments still relay information largely via television and radio. Both of these forms of communication require electricity that may not be available during emergencies.1 Also, use of text messages has surged in the U.S. In 2009, the number of messages sent by the average user each month was 488, a huge increase from 2006 when it was merely 69.2 To put text messaging into a broader perspective, 2.1 billion messages were sent in the first half of 2008; 4.1 billion messages were sent in the first half of 2009. 3 And the number just keeps growing each year.

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Breaking Down Barriers to Effective Emergency Notifications

Groups can be communicated with in a variety of ways, including: • Voice over wireless phone networks or landline phones • Email • Text messaging • Social networks • Web alerting methods

What is Emergency Notification? Emergency or mass notification is defined as the automated call-out to notify groups or individuals – disaster recovery teams, employees, citizens, residents, customers, suppliers or government officials – and is critical for managing a crisis. Emergency notification systems (ENS) automate the manual calling tree and focus on the electronic activation and management of notification messages, thus streamlining an organization’s mass communications capability. ENS software can be used to collect and organize contacts to send emergency messages and to track receipts or responses for message delivery confirmation. 4 The evolution of mass notification technology has been gradual, starting with air raid sirens that were common during World War II. Technology has continued to develop to the point where leaders can choose a myriad of solutions, such as digital signage, cell phone text alerts and computer pop-ups, to create a comprehensive system. With so many technologies to choose from on the market, implementing a system that fits the needs of the audience has become a huge challenge.5 This white paper will inform you about the barriers to having effective emergency notification systems (ENS), talk about what you should look for in an ENS that helps you knock down the defined barriers, and ultimately help you keep the public informed and safe before, during or after any type of emergency.

Emergency Notification Barriers Damaged Equipment During an emergency, the usual tools for communicating may not even be available to disperse information, such as television and radio. This requires citizens to get creative in their attempts to stay informed and safe during a crisis. For example, during the 2007 California wildfires, residents in the affected area used social media applications such as Google Mashup and Twitter to report and disseminate real-time updates about the crisis. 6 Generally speaking, a reasonable assumption can be made that the more closely you can align the dissemination of information with the public’s social networks and the culture of the user community, the more likely that you will be able to keep citizens safe. 7 So if you’re relying strictly on television and radio to send out emergency notifications, you might be putting all of your eggs into a basket that’s broken or about to break. It only stands to reason that if inconsistent or inaccurate information is relayed to the public – or even worse, the standard communication channel is out of service – it can lead to even more problems during a crisis. More people may get injured during a tornado, for example, if they are not told to head for cover soon enough. Or curiosity seekers may attempt to discover information on their own if they aren’t alerted ahead of time to stay away from dangerous areas.

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Nearly 90 percent of all U.S. residents use a cell phone and nearly one out of every four households no longer have a landline phone. -Federal Communications Commission

Lack of First Responder Communications Another common problem during emergencies is the inability of emergency responders such as EMTs, firefighters and law enforcement officers to communicate not only with the public, but also with each other. If you don’t have a clear line of communication with your first responders, you will probably have problems communicating with the public in real time. Take the situations that developed during Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks, where first responders were almost incapacitated by an inability to talk with each other and keep their fellow rescuers informed about what was going on. It seems clear that first responders should have had a resilient communication network that they can share. 8 The end goal is to not only maintain lines of communication between first responders, but to allow first responders to send messages to the public if information needs to be relayed immediately. Incorrect Contact Information Another common barrier that government agencies face during an emergency is that citizens do not update their contact information on a regular basis. With more and more people turning off their landlines and relying solely on mobile devices, it becomes even more challenging to communicate if you do not have current contact information for them. The annual wireless report, published by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), has confirmed this trend by revealing that nearly 90 percent of all U.S. residents now use mobile service, and almost one out of every four households has no landline at all. After breaking down the figures by age demographic, the FCC found that the number of people dropping landlines is more prominent in certain age groups than others: Among young adults aged 25 to 29, over 50 percent rely solely on their cellular devices today. 9 One-to-One Contact Too Slow When an emergency strikes, the practicality of one-to-one communication quickly breaks down. The whole concept of communicating this way is the assumption that the people you are trying to reach are available. Plus, one-to-one communication takes time – time that you may not have during a crisis. Imagine how long it would take you to personally reach out to thousands of people in a short amount of time if a disaster or emergency event occurs. Another option is call trees, which have similar expectations of being able to reach many people in a timely manner. But this can quickly break down if one person in the tree breaks the chain of calls. Or even if you leave a message for someone, it doesn’t always mean that the person will listen to the message. If you don’t communicate clearly, it can also lead to additional questions about what the public is expected to do in case of emergency. Therefore, trying to communicate information in a one-to-one manner just doesn’t work in emergency situations.

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Inadequate Systems Another aspect of communicating with the public that needs to be considered is the capacity of local government systems to handle large numbers of calls and alerts. Public and private telephone exchange systems can get overloaded with calls, and the same goes for mobile telephone systems. 10 Both of these factors make it difficult to communicate during times of crisis, which makes it imperative for you to be able to use both types of phone systems and randomize your calls. In addition, central offices may get overloaded during a crisis, thus making it imperative for your organization to be able to rely on an ENS that can handle large capacities of calls. Common Alerting Protocol Readiness When looking at an ENS, you also need to take into consideration the Common Alerting Protocol (CAP), a simple but general format for exchanging all-hazard emergency alerts and public warnings over all kinds of networks. CAP allows a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, thus increasing warning effectiveness while simplifying the warning task. CAP also facilitates the detection of emerging patterns in local warnings of various kinds, such as picking up on undetected hazard or hostile acts. If your system follows CAP guidelines, CAP provides a template for effective warning messages based on best practices identified in academic research and real-world experience. 11 Ineffective Emergency Sirens In the days when sirens were used to notify people about an emergency, it only allowed for one-way communication, which can be confusing or frustrating if people don’t understand what the siren is for. Being able to send voice alerts and giving people the option of calling a number that offers different options via pre-recorded messages is extremely important in continuing to send alerts and in getting people to the point where they fully understand what they need to do to keep themselves safe. No Single Point of Registration It only stands to reason that if you alert people in a manner that they prefer, the likelihood of your message actually being received increases significantly. Unfortunately, many government agencies lack an ability to gather subscriber information from a single point of access. Just think of how much more efficient your entire ENS would be if you were able to gather subscriber information in one system. Plus, the probability of people reading or listening to your messages would likely increase. Lack of Survey Capabilities If you could improve your communications activities during a crisis, wouldn’t you do it? For example, during Hurricane Katrina, wouldn’t it have been beneficial for public officials to make adjustments in the type of information they were sharing on the fly versus hearing about how unhappy people were after the worst of that disaster occurred? It might have even saved more lives and helped people get to safety more quickly. Having a system with an ability to conduct voice and text surveys would help you make adjustments on the fly and keep people safer in the long run.

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Special needs can encompass a wide spectrum of needs, which are defined by FEMA as: • Visually impaired • Hearing impaired • Mobility impaired • Single working parent • Non-English speaking persons • People without vehicles • People with special dietary needs • People with medical conditions • People with intellectual disabilities • People with dementia 12

Meeting Needs of Special Needs Citizens Public agencies sometimes forget about how to communicate with special needs citizens during an emergency. Take for example the actions of the Waycross, Georgia Fire Department. In responding to a fire in the downtown area, the fire department made a decision to cut off part of the electrical grid to contain the fire. This affected three special needs citizens: two who required electrically supplied oxygen and one who relied on electricity to operate a special air bed. The commissioners for the city believed that the electric company had the ability to contact the special needs residents, which was not the case. It turned out that no one in the city had a list of special needs citizens. 11 An assessment of the response to a 2002 ice storm crisis revealed deficiencies in communicating with non-native English speaking people in Charlotte-Mecklenburg. Specifically, there were a disproportionate number of health-related illnesses associated with the ice storm, with the leading cause of illness being carbon monoxide poisoning. Traditional means of communicating with this population proved ineffective. 13 Another thing you may consider for tracking special needs citizens is using a Geographic Information System (GIS), which is a computer system capable of capturing, storing, analyzing, and displaying geographically referenced information. Role/Responsibility-based Communication Having the ability for specific roles and administrators with certain responsibilities to communicate information during a crisis can alleviate the need for a group or single person to disseminate information and can shorten the path between the sender and recipient of the information. During a crisis, that is precious time that can be used to keep more people safe. You need to take into consideration an ENS that has the capability for role/ responsibility-based communication. Poor Public Knowledge of ENS Finally, in order for an ENS to work effectively, people need to be aware of what your ENS is and how they’re going to get information from you. Ideally, you need to have a large number of subscribers to even have an impact. If your registration isn’t optimal, think of ways to make it optimal, and work toward integrating third party data into the ENS and procuring all listed and unlisted landlines from the phone company (E911 data or emergency subscriber lists [ESL]). As noted previously, one third of U.S. residents have no knowledge of or experience with their local emergency notification program.14 That leaves a wide margin of people gathering their information from a variety of non-authorized sources.

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What to Look for in an Emergency Notification System public sector expertise Taking all of this information into consideration, you have many things to think about before you search for the right ENS partner. It’s important to work with a partner that you consider a thought leader because of the complexity of the decision-making process in government environments and the large number of people involved. Thought leaders are typically willing to work closely with you to hear what your problems are and then bring workable solutions to help solve or resolve those problems. You can utilize their expertise around emergency notifications and often leverage the partnerships they have with other emergency management professionals to help you. You also want to work with a partner that can help you develop a solution that is customized to your organization’s unique needs. Your work with your ENS partner should revolve around driving significant outreach through signing up massive numbers of citizens to receive alerts, followed by how to get that emergency information to your citizens. Once that data is gathered, the next step should be to load that information into one system and then geographically code it so you can deploy your ENS and get your message out. Easy to Use It goes without saying that during times of stress, people’s cognitive abilities can become impaired. So, a system that was easy to use yesterday may not seem so simple when there’s a crisis looming. When you’re considering an ENS, you should take into consideration whether the average employee will be able to use the system with little or no training, or if the system requires some type of specialized skills. The system you select should be intuitive and simple as evaluated by the people who will be expected to use it during an emergency, not the sales person demonstrating the system to you. One thing to look for is simple-to-use text to voice technologies that get alerts out even faster. Consider Special Needs Citizens While FEMA strongly encourages all people they define as special needs to prepare for an emergency and try to be self-sufficient, these people must first receive a notification regarding what the emergency is and what your organization is recommending people do. You therefore will need an ENS that can communicate with all special needs individuals in a language or format that they can comprehend. 17 For example, in June 2008 when power was lost in Nutley, N.J. for multiple days, the Nutley Fire Department ran a geographical report based on registration data of special needs citizens and went to each house with coolers and generators for people whose health was power-dependent.

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Wired and Wireless Depending on the type of emergency you are facing, it’s a good idea to have the option to communicate via both wired and wireless systems. That way you ensure that you’re reaching your targeted audience in the manner they prefer. If you reach people in a way that they have listed as a preference, the likelihood of your message actually getting to the person increases dramatically. More and more organizations are jumping on the wireless bandwagon as a safeguard to protecting the public in times of emergency. For example, New York City recently unveiled the nation’s first comprehensive, geographically targeted ENS for cell phones to help keep people safe.15 However, you can’t simply rely on wireless technology to carry you through an emergency – you need to have a backup with wired systems, too. Your ENS should have the capacity to deliver voice messages via landline or mobile phone. In addition, you should have the capability of sending text messages. Also, people should be able to subscribe via the web or keyword texting. Your ultimate goal should be to get as many people registered as possible and offer them a variety of ways to receive alerts and information from you. Another important point to remember is that a lot of carriers now are allowing voice messages at home to be emailed as a wave file, so with this technology coming down the road, individuals can get messages left on a landline via their smartphones. Multiple Communication Channels You know that during a crisis, having the ability to not only push out information but to give subscribers additional information is crucial for keeping people informed and safe. That’s why you need a system that offers multiple communication channels. This gives you the ability to notify the public during an emergency, and then provide additional automated messages for specific geographic areas. Whether that communication is via web, email, text messaging, Facebook or Twitter, it’s essential to push information out immediately during times of crisis. In fact, FEMA's "Whole Community" approach to emergency management recognizes that individuals, families and communities are our greatest assets and the keys to their success. In order to fulfill their mission, FEMA recognizes that the public is an important participant in the emergency management community and that they all must work together as one team. The notion of treating the public as a resource rather than a liability is at the heart of FEMA’s emergency management framework.16

Image Source: FEMA

Follows CAP Guidelines One consideration you should look into is working with an ENS that follows CAP guidelines. CAP allows a consistent warning message to be disseminated simultaneously over many different warning systems, thus increasing warning effectiveness while simplifying the warning task. CAP also facilitates the detection of emerging patterns in local warnings of various kinds, such as might indicate an undetected hazard or hostile act. And CAP provides a template for effective warning messages based on best practices identified in academic research and real-world experience. 18

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Role/Responsibility-based Communications During any type of emergency situation, it becomes crucial for people within specific roles, such as fire fighters or police officers, or with specific responsibilities to receive communications from your organization and to be able to communicate with each other. In some instances, people in specific roles or with certain responsibilities should be able to push out messages to the public as deemed appropriate. As everyone knows, during a crisis things happen quickly and sometimes your communication needs to be just as quick. Since the nature of most emergencies is often impossible to anticipate, digital communications channels help relay time-sensitive information quickly, efficiently and in a cost-effective manner. For example, it can take a long time if you have public works call the police to tell them about boil water advisory in case water is contaminated. Then the police need to tell someone in your office so that person can prepare and send an alert off the system. Instead, you could consider allowing the public works department to issue the notice just for boil water advisory. The more granular your ENS system, the less time it takes for a message to go from point of first knowledge to clicking the send button. Gain Subscribers and Boost Participation If you do not currently have a system for securing a network of subscribers for your organization, you will need to work with a partner to help you figure out a manner to boost your subscriber network – and a partner who can bring subscribers from similar organizations to you so you can crosspollinate your subscription lists. When setting up your network of subscribers, it’s extremely important to be able to gather information about people quickly and effectively in order to relay information to them in a manner that they prefer. Your ENS should be able to gather user-created profiles that include name, address, and phone number, as well as emergency contact, special household health needs, work contact information, mobile numbers, emails and more. Once you’ve gathered all of that information in one database, you need a partner to manage it for you in a secure and reliable manner. When an emergency occurs, you are then prepared to instantly communicate over all devices and social networking tools with all citizens affected, regardless of where they are. You also need to secure information from your subscribers that designate alert preferences, types and settings. Giving people the option to indicate how they want to receive information increases the likelihood of your message actually being delivered and seen or heard. Your ENS should be able to work with other third party systems to incorporate their data into the alert registration process via your application programming interface.

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Handling Large Capacities of Calls During an emergency, you need a system that can randomize calls over multiple central offices to curtail calling congestion if you are attempting to reach a high volume of people at once. Further, each central office should have its own customized calling capabilities to avoid any shut down of communication. Work with the Phone Companies Another area that you’ll need to consider is how to work with phone companies during an emergency. You’ll need to rely on a partner that can manage the phone company phone files, including listed and unlisted phone numbers that encompass business and residential numbers. This helps you cover all of your bases. You’ll have your subscriber lists gathered and ready to send, but you will also have access to phone company records to make sure that you have the ability to reach as many people as possible. Not only is it important to get this information, but it needs to be kept updated and optimized to make sure information stays current when people cancel or get new service. When a city or county can come to the table and have preloaded geographical phone data (listed and unlisted numbers) in a system, notifications can start to be sent overnight. Your ENS should also be able to use this list as a way to inform everyone that they can also register via web or keyword texting to enhance your ability to reach them regardless of their location during a crisis.

Conclusion As a government employee, one of the many roles you play is point of reference during emergency situations. Whether it’s a winter storm, a hostage situation or a freeway that’s buckled due to extreme heat, you are responsible for keeping the public informed and safe when disaster strikes. You have a mission to deliver information people want to know when they need the information most. This white paper has outlined the barriers you may face in having an ENS, and has discussed what you should look for in an ENS that helps you eliminate the defined barriers. Your ultimate goal is to the keep the public informed and safe before, during or after any type of emergency. Overall, your best defense during an emergency is a strong ENS offense that is in place before anything happens.

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End Notes 1

“CDW-G Shows Mass Notification Toolkit,” Homeland Security Newswire, March 4, 2009: http://www. homelandsecuritynewswire.com/cdw-g-shows-mass-notification-toolkit

2

“Americans Continue to Ditch Landlines in Favor of Mobile Services,” Cell Phone Shop Blog, July 12, 2011: http:// blog.cellphoneshop.com/2011/07/americans-continue-to-ditch-landlines.html

3

“Blogging, Facebook, LinkedIn, Texting, And Twitter,” Creditworthy News, Jan 12, 2011: http://www.creditworthy. com/3jm/articles/cw011211.html

4

“Marketscope for Emergency and Mass Notification Services,” Gartner Research, Jan. 29, 2010.

5

“The Evolution of Mass Notification Systems: Part I,” Security Info Watch, Aug. 1, 2011: http://www. securityinfowatch.com/article/10481502/the-evolution-of-mass-notification-systems-part-

6

User Acceptance of Community Emergency Alert Technology: Motivations and Barriers,” Fei Wu, Doctor of Philosophy, College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, 2009: http://drum.lib.umd.edu/ bitstream/1903/9274/1/Wu_umd_0117E_10152.pdf

7

Language Use and English-Speaking Ability, Census 2000 Brief, 2000: http://www.census.gov/prod/2003pubs/ c2kbr-29.pdf

8

“A Better Communications System for Emergency Workers,” Carl Malamud, Reed Hundt, Sept. 9, 2005: http://www. americanprogress.org/issues/2005/09/b1029179.html

9

“Americans Continue to Ditch Landlines in Favor of Mobile Services,” Cell Phone Shop Blog, July 12, 2011: http:// blog.cellphoneshop.com/2011/07/americans-continue-to-ditch-landlines.html

10

Cleveland Raynet Group Blog: http://clevelandraynet.awardspace.com/fail2.htm

11

“No one left behind – meeting the needs of special needs citizens in emergency situations,” David E. Eddins, Waycross Fire Department, Waycross, Georgia: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/pdf/efop/efo43011.pdf

12

“People with Disabilities and Other Access and Functional Needs,” http://www.fema.gov/plan/prepare/specialplans. shtm

13

Communicating in Crisis: Recommendations to Improve Communication and Emergency Preparedness with Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s Non-English Speaking Population, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg International Emergency Preparedness Task Force, Aug. 23, 2007: http://charmeck.org/city/charlotte/cic/Documents/Communicating%20 in%20Crisis%20Report.pdf

14

http://www.homelandsecuritynewswire.com/cdw-g-shows-mass-notification-toolkit

15

“Bloomberg, FEMA, FCC Detail NYC Emergency Notification System,” Wired, Sam Gustin, May 10, 2011: http:// www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/05/bloomberg-fema-fcc/

16

“Written Statement of Craig Fugate, Administrator, Federal Emergency Management Agency, before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Subcommittee on Disaster Recovery and Intergovernmental Affairs: ‘Understanding the Power of Social Media as a Communication Tool in the Aftermath of Disasters’,” May 5, 2011: http://www.dhs.gov/ynews/testimony/testimony_1304533264361.shtm

17

http://www.wired.com/epicenter/2011/05/bloomberg-fema-fcc/

18

http://www.oasis-open.org/committees/download.php/15135/emergency-CAPv1.1-Corrected_DOM.pdf

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About GovDelivery GovDelivery can help solve your digital communications challenges. With solutions designed specifically for the public sector, we are uniquely poised to understand your goals, challenges and concerns. With GovDelivery as your partner, you can: • Increase your communications effectiveness by reaching 100% to 500% more people than you are currently • Improve your efficiency by streamlining complex communications into one system • Enhance your organization’s engagement with the public by creating value for them and you through clearer communications that drive action, such as finding shelter in an emergency to save lives GovDelivery Emergency Notification uses advanced data management, communication, and GIS mapping technology to deliver emergency alerts and important notifications directly and immediately to citizens that are affected by an emergency. Combined with our experience in dramatically increasing the outreach for more than 500 government organizations worldwide, your emergency notifications can be more effective while providing direct value to the public and creating mission value for your organization. Leverage our public sector expertise to make your communications more effective, efficient and engaging. Find out why more than 500 government organizations – including Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Weather Service and the Centers for Disease Control – partner with GovDelivery to help them reach citizens and stakeholders in advisory and urgent situations. For more information on how GovDelivery can help you keep your communities safe and informed, visit govdelivery.com.

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GovDelivery's Emergency Notification White Paper  

This white paper has outlines the barriers you may face in having an ENS, and discusses what you should look for in an ENS that helps you el...

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