During drinking water emergencies (such as Boil Orders, Do Not Drink, and Do Not Use Notices) a public water system (PWS) may want to electronically broadcast automated notices to customers to inform them of the emergency in conjunction with the required public notices such as radio, television, posting, hand delivery, etc. Automated messages take many forms and use commercially available systems that include:
- Voice - Deliver pre-recorded or synthesized voice; suitable for brief messages. E.g., "Reverse 911". See sample messages below.
- Text - Short Message Service (SMS) delivers messages up to 160 characters to cell phones.
- Email - This is suitable for more detailed messages via the Internet. (Note that SMS and email systems cannot guarantee delivery to customers.)
Automated messaging is a good method, for it reaches a vast amount of customers very quickly. One way to utilize automated broadcast messaging is Reverse 911, which can use a brief prerecorded voice for landlines and answering machines, a short text message to cell phones, or more lengthy email to computers. This fact sheet can guide you on how to accomplish automated messaging.
Accurate Contact Info
Do understand that the notice you want to broadcast automatically will only be as good as the telephone numbers and email addresses you possess. Be aware that there can be problems with your telephone numbers/info. There may be data entry errors or invalid phone numbers and emails as people can change that information quite readily. Even aggressive spam filters can filter out your emergency emails.
To assist in keeping your telephone and email addresses as current as possible, you can install an opt-in data collection process where customers can be invited to join your list. This can make it easy for customers to update their changing information. Many PWSs have a link on the town's web page for this purpose.
Automated messaging are quick but you must plan and prepare a message. Think about your target audience; is it the entire town or only a subsection of town?
Also think about how to deliver the broadcast. Voice dialers usually can handle about 1,000 calls per hour. Email, text, or SMS can deliver this same amount of messages in only minutes.
Also think about how long it will take the customer to listen to or read the message and to take action on what they just heard.
The purpose of broadcast messages is to quickly inform customers of an emergency situation and to direct them to where they can receive more detailed information. The message has to be brief and to the point for it to be effective. More detailed information will be in the Public Notification that MassDEP requires systems to deliver when an emergency occurs. Please note that the entire EPA/MassDEP required public notification language is too much information for an emergency automated message.
Important points for a quick message for water quality concerns would be:
- Who sent this message?
- What action should consumers immediately take?
- Are alternative water supplies available?
- Where can consumers obtain additional information?
Below are two sample messages:
Boil Water Advisory
XYZ Water System is asking customers to boil tap water or use bottled water until further notice. For more information, go to www.xyzsystem.org or call 617-555-1234.
End of Boil Water Advisory
XYZ Water System's customers no longer have to boil tap water. For more information, go to www.xyzsystem.org or call 617-555-1234.
Use of automated messaging and compliance with PN requirement
The use of automated messaging does not replace or substitute for compliance notices required for Public Notification under 310 CMR 22.16. Because of problems associated with maintaining current phone numbers and email addresses, and ensuring receipt of all messages, automated messaging can only be used in addition to required notification formats. For information on how to complete a Public Notice, please refer to fact sheets and guidance found at Water System Operations II
If you have any questions about drinking water public notices please contact MassDEP at Program.Director-DWP@state.ma.us or contacts at:
Western Region - Susan Steenstrup, 413-755-2264
Central Region - Paula Caron, 508-767-2719
Southeast - Karen Dube, 508-946-2720
Northeast - Tatyana Karpenko, 978-694-3233
Boston - Marie Tennant, 617-292-5885