Everyone was working quietly in my office yesterday when all of a sudden mobile phones starting blaring an alarm and some playing a recorded message. This was the new Alert Ready system in Canada that has recently been deployed.
The particular message above was an standard “Amber Alert” issued by the OPP in regards to a missing child. The alert startled many (which I guess it should do), interrupted work etc. What I found interesting was the behaviour that followed. In my office, many started trying to figure out how to disable the alerts, or change it so they would vibrate, basically trying to control the conditions of when and how alerts were received. I would suggest this is not the behavioural response that an emergency broadcast system wants to train their population to have. Whoever makes the decisions on what is broadcast, when and how for this system, I would suggest they look into the vast previous experience many in emergency services, incident response and monitoring are aware of. If you over use it, people will start to not pay attention to it. I have heard it called “The Crying wolf effect” or the “Cassandra Effect” – basically false alarms (or in this case alarms that don’t apply to an individual) cause the receiver to ignore or put less urgency on the alerts.
While the news reports that you cannot disable or “opt-out” of these alerts, I would suggest that actually depends on the type of phone and version of software you have. My phone which is a phone that is under a year old had thankfully has many options:
On my phone, I have quite a bit of control. I can totally disable the alerts. If I enable them, I can choose the category of alerts I care to be notified about and those I do not. How I want to be notified vibration and or sound. If alert sound is enabled, use current volume setting or full volume. I can choose to enable or disable the speaking of the alert message. Some of my colleagues had none of these options, and others had only the option to enable or disable emergency alerts.
I struggle with the idea of not giving the user control of what they receive and do not receive and when they receive it. I know when I purchase or select mobile phones in the future, this is now one of the criteria I will look into. I want the control, independent of what any ‘authority’ feels is in my best interest.