Here is a definitive statement from a highly credible source about the problems of relying on SMS text messaging for life-saving messages. The US trade group 3G Americas researched use of text messages for emergency notification and came up with a pretty sober assessment.
A great many organizations, led by Universities, jumped on the text message emergency notification band wagon following the Virginia Tech tragedy and the outcry from students about not being notified. This rush has now spread to many Departments of Emergency Management, school districts, and a wide range of government agencies who have vital information for citizens in an emergency.
Being in this business myself, I see this trend as very healthy, but the focus on text messaging as unhealthy. What is healthy is the growing realization of what I have long called the “post-media” world. We no longer expect to get vital and urgent information from the mainstream media. That day is past. We don’t wait for school closure information by watching the crawl on the tv screen. We don’t expect to hear news about evacuations in front of large storms from our radio stations. We don’t expect to get the news about a deranged killer in our neighborhood from the newspaper. More and more, we expect those responsible for our safety to be able to communicate with us directly.
But our answer always has been multi-modal communication. Text messaging is one important element. But only one and it has limitations–some very significant limitations. Right now the only correct answer that we can see to meet the increasing demand for instant information is to provide it in multiple modes–text, phone, website, RSS feeds, email, fax, digital sign boards, desktop alerts–and of course, through the media as well. To rely on one way is an all but sure way to leave some out. Even with all this, there is no guarantee that everyone who needs to hear from you will get the message when they most need it. But using a simple platform that provides integrated delivery of messages in multiple modes is the best way of getting the messages out and demonstrating you are very serious about communicating.