I was awakened to the sound of a siren. It wasn’t a fire truck, ambulance or the police, but a droning, slowly oscillating up and down whine emitting from the direction of downtown. It was something I hadn’t heard before, and wondered it’s meaning.
How to find out…radio? I don’t use the over-the-air radio, and even if I did, what station do I turn to? Internet? I checked the Facebook page for our neighborhood and village: nothing. No emergency notification on my phone either (even though Amber alerts have worked fine in the past.) Wanting to confirm there wasn’t something I should be doing to prepare against a raging fire, severe weather or a terrorist attack, I called 311 (non-emergency services.) No answer. Now I was starting to get concerned.
I ended up calling 911 and immediately said that this was a non-emergency; I wanted to find out why the city’s siren was sounding. “It’s a fire alarm that is malfunctioning, and they are working on it.” This sounded like the person who had been providing that stock answer all morning to many callers before me. Eventually, the siren did stop.
If the siren does go off again, what exactly are people supposed to do? The only information source apparently is 911, and that could quickly become overwhelmed. So the two choices appear to be: panic or ignore it. For most people I assume the latter.
This made me think of security monitoring, detection and prevention solutions that provide myriad alerts and notifications. The implementation of any alert should include a response process. At a minimum, these questions should answered:
- What is the value of this alert?
- How can we be aware that this alert is triggered?
- What should be done when this alert is triggered?
If any of these can’t be answered, then the alert should not be implemented. Because if no one knows what to do when a siren sounds, what’s the point? Panic, if anything, decreases security as it can provide a useful distraction for miscreants. So deploy alerts and sirens responsibly, and provide quick and easy access to information regarding it. Leverage social media, and consider the ways people access information nowadays.
A siren only has value if people know what it means, and how to respond to it. Otherwise, it’s just noise.