California fires: smart speakers and emergency alerts

Sean Donelan sean at
Sat Oct 14 00:01:45 CST 2017

On Fri, 13 Oct 2017, Jared Mauch wrote:
> I’m quite surprised they didn’t send out a local emergency alert. I’ve 
> gotten these for Tornadoes and amber alerts. Wildfires would be 
> comparable to a Tornado IMO.

Like most news stories, its a little more complicated.

Napa, Sonoma sent an evacuation alert by Nixle, SoCoAlert and social 
media (i.e. Facebook). They also made reverse-911 calls to landlines, and 
sent police to knock on doors in neighborhoods.

Lake County sent an evacuation alert by both EAS and WEA (different from 
SMStext, like an Amber alert).

Orange County sent an evacuation alert by WEA.

The National Weather Service will forward alerts from local emergency 
management officials about evacuations and wildfires on request, but 
doesn't issue evacuation or wildfire alerts itself.

The reason given by emergency management officials was WEA (cell phones) 
and EAS (cable, radio and TV) would cause public panic and traffic jams 
because those systems alert everyone in an entire county.

One of the biggest challenges for emergency managers is reaching people in 
the middle of the night at homes as fewer people have landline phones. 
Smart speakers seem like an interesting way to notify people -- assuming 
the owner has a working broadband connection, allows "push" 
notifications, etc.  While have a backup RF receiver would be nice, that's 
what a cell phone or weather alert radio is good at.  Many emergency 
alerts are distributed through the Internet now, i.e. IPAWS, so smart 
speaker companies don't need to have special EAS receivers anymore.

Most of the smart speaker companies aggressively try to get users to add
their zip code/postal code to geolocate the unit.  In addition to 
providing local weather and news, I assume it helps the smartspeaker 
companies target advertising.

And since I've already gotten a private email about it, end-user/consumer 
alerting devices can filter alerts. The user could block the 3am amber 
alerts, but still allow evacuation, and other extreme alerts.

Back to my question - Hey, smart speaker companies... Any plans?

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