Sunday, May 29, 2011

NOLAReady and "Emergency" Communications? is a service provided by the City of New Orleans Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness:

NOLAReady is an alert system that allows City Officials to contact you during an emergency by sending text messages to your:
  • E-mail account (work, home, school, etc.)
  • Cell phone, pager
  • Smart phone or hand held device


Here are examples of when NOLAReady may be used:
  • Life-threatening weather
  • Highly disruptive road shutdowns
  • Evacuation or Shelter in Place information
  • Boil water notices
  • Information about emergency shelters
  • Other emergency information
I had a look at the emails from NOLAReady from May 20 to today, which was 29 messages which my email system has tagged as "@Emergent".  It used to be that I would forward these as text messages to my phone, but you'll quickly see why this is unrealistic.

Currently I am subscribed to: 

NOPD News and Information
2nd District News & Info
Zip Codes / Neighborhoods
70125-Fountainbleau, Broadmoor
70130-Garden & Warehouse Dsts, CBD, French Qtr
Central Business District
French Quarter
University / Colleges / Primary Schools
Charter Schools
Internet/RSS Feeds (Traffic, Amber, CDC)
Amber Alert - LA
Traffic 24/7
Weather Information
Weather 24 hours/day
New Orleans Health Department & Partners
British Consulate
Consulate General of France in New Orleans

I'm pretty sure your definition of an emergency is similar to mine includes things like weather warnings, school closings, traffic issues, gunman rampages and other "emergent" situations.

So what did I find?

Out of the 29 messages, 3 came from "NOLA Emergency" and were all related to the weather from NOAA.  2 came from "NOLA Urgent" and were related to a shooting the day before and a rescheduled COMSTAT meeting.  The remainder were from "NOLA Info" and included a NWS flood warning and the rest of the "NOLA Info" emails were related to the NOPD, and not just the 2nd district.

Useful emergency information like:

NOPD Consistently Ranks in Top 3 in National Integrated Ballistic Identification Network (NIBIN) Monthly Surveys-Public Information Office

(they enter a lot of ballistics information into a database, because we have a lot of crime, because we have decades of work to do in education and business)


NOPD’s Narcotics and Task Force Units Investigated 3,667 Complaints, 89 Narcotics Cases and Confiscated 19 Guns in the Last Two Weeks

and most messages never fail to tell us that:

The New Orleans Police Department, under the leadership of Superintendent Ronal W. Serpas, is engaged in a complete transformation in its approach to policing to ensure that New Orleans is a safer place. The entire police force, which currently employs near 1,735 officers and support staff, is committed to accountability, transparency, integrity and collaboration to provide professional quality care and service to New Orleanians and New Orleans’ visitors. Anyone who has crime to report should call CRIMESTOPPERS at 822-1111, toll-free 1-877-903-STOP (7867) any time. To learn more about the NOPD and our services, visit  and visit us on Facebook at
So you tell me - is this appropriate use of an emergency communication channel?  Even a 2nd District News and Info channel?

When an emergency channel is stuffed with non-emergency information, people stop using it and those that continue to use it get desensitized to the urgency of the information.  One only has to look at common factors in "normal" accidents like the Deepwater Horizon where warnings are turned off because there are too many false positives, which is known to dangerously reduce the readiness of responders.  Of course, then there are missed positives which result in problems, potentially catastrophic.  Systems like these cannot be set and forgotten.  They need to be monitored and maintained.  They need to be used by the people who stuff the channels full of shit so they understand that the channel can become useless.

We all know that a major failure during Katrina and the Federal Flood was communications, both within government agencies and without.  Although the NOLAReady system was well-intentioned when brought online after Katrina, it has been unmanaged or mismanaged to the point of being either useless or detrimental to emergency preparedness.  As the 2011 hurricane season approaches and the Corps' efforts to complete 1%-chance flood protection are coming to completion and being lauded, we should not overlook a lesson which was supposedly learned about communications in the aftermath of Katrina.

The all hazards approach should be applied to this communications channel - note that several recent events including the boil water order were not sent to NOLAReady, including tornado warnings issued on April 4, 2011 - traffic should be prioritized and properly categorized.

Lucky Penny - Calhoun @ Conti

Lucky Dime - Freret @ CURE

Lucky Penny - Canal Place?