Public Health

Text Message Alerts Get Standardized with Free Public Health Tool Kit

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ prepared text messages deliver public health information to cell phones and save emergency managers time.

To support emergency managers following a disaster, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) created a tool kit of prepared text messages that deliver public health information to citizens’ cell phones.

The idea came from an HHS representative who helped create public service announcements for emergencies, said Elleen Kane, a public affairs specialist within the HHS’ Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response. The representative thought text messages would be an easy way to deliver information that people need during a disaster to protect their heath.

The department worked with state and local emergency managers from 400 agencies spanning 44 states and Washington, D.C., to determine what topics would be most beneficial.

Available on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, emergency managers and public health officials can download the tool kit and distribute the text messages using their existing cell phone message distribution system.

The messages are limited to 115 characters or fewer including spaces and can be customized by the user agency. Kane said having standardized messages reinforces information from other sources, like public service announcements, and can save officials valuable time during and after an emergency.

“The text messages already been developed by people who are experts in the field,” she said. “So they know that it’s good, solid information and is one less thing that they have to worry about at the time.”

Currently the text messages focus on hurricanes, floods and earthquakes, but Kane said the tool kit will be built out to include information about other natural disasters as well as biological and nuclear emergencies. An example of one of the prewritten messages is: “Prevent child drownings. Keep kids from playing in or around flood water. More info from CDC 800-232-4636 or http://go.usa.gov/bGa.”

Agencies can register with the HHS to get updates to the tool kit by e-mailing their contact information to publichealthemergency@hhs.gov. Kane said the department is also looking for people who are interested in participating in future development of the messages.

The tool kit is a collaborative effort of five HHS divisions: the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response; the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; the Food and Drug Administration; and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

 

Elaine Pittman  |  Associate Editor

Elaine Pittman is the associate editor of Emergency Management magazine. She covers topics including public safety, homeland security and lessons learned. Pittman is also the associate editor for Government Technology magazine. She can be reached via email and @elainerpittman on Twitter.

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