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Crisis? What Crisis? How Digital Signage Helps in Times of Need

on January 11, 2016

Digital signage is playing a pivotal role in governmental crisis planning and management today. It has proven to be an effective method of communicating quickly with an increasingly mobile public. In an emergency, time is of the essence. Minutes can mean the difference between life and death. Being able to provide direction and updates in real time is essential. Especially for government agencies responsible for protecting the public.

Incorporating the use of digital signage and digital-out-of-home (DOOH) networks in crisis situations allows government agencies to share vital information quickly and efficiently. DOOH networks, used to share highly targeted marketing and advertising messaging outside of the home, are growing in number across the entire country. DOOH networks can be found in public locations including:

- Hospitals
- Schools and college campuses
- Libraries
- Retail locations
- Airports
- Bus stations
- Inside of taxis,
- Rapid transit stations
- Highways and streets
- Electric car charging stations
- Government buildings
- Sports venues
- Entertainment complexes

The volume of people exposed to DOOH communications is enormous—reaching millions every year. Digital signage is completely customizable and, as an emergency communication tool can be used to notify large numbers of people about crisis situations like extreme weather, public safety issues, even Amber Alerts for missing children. Many agencies, like FBI and law enforcement, rely on donations of DOOH for relaying crisis messaging while others can budget for digital signage technology and networks as part of their infrastructure.

Safety and Disaster Preparedness

Usage of digital signage and DOOH vary depending on the emergency, the needs of the institution, and available resources. State and local emergency management agencies are partnering with DOOH networks to broadcast real-time public safety and disaster preparedness messages. One example of this messaging is the broadcasting of National Weather Service alerts for impending severe weather like tornadoes or flash floods.

Crisis Communications in Public Schools and Universities

Public schools and universities are using digital signage as an integral part of their crisis communications networks. According to Campus Safety Magazine, a post-Virginia Tech incident report named digital signage as one of the most effective methods for delivering emergency notices to the student body inside buildings. “We realized with all of the technologies we had that we weren’t able to reach all of the faculty members or students in classrooms that were isolated,” says Virginia Tech Associate Vice President, University Relations Larry Hinker. “That was a concern after the horrendous shooting we had.”

California State University San Marcos (CSUSM), has a 304-acre campus with 13,000 students and 1,900 staff members. CSUSM employs a mass notification system that broadcasts emergency messaging across a flexible system that includes 42 digital signs. Its emergency alert system is controlled by digital override software that converts digital media into an emergency messaging station that broadcasts pre-written messages loaded into the system’s server. CSUSM officials can activate messaging with the push of a button, making possible to alert students and staff of crisis in just seconds.

According to James Careless, in a post on GovernmentVideo.com, CSUSM’s decision to link its digital signage to a pre-programmed, multi-media emergency notification system is part of a trend among public institutions to deal with emergency situations proactively. Applications like CSUSM are being installed more and more frequently in colleges, universities, corporations, medical bases, and government organizations, often with digital signage and cable TV displays doubling as emergency messaging platforms.

Public Safety and Apprehension of Fugitives

In the immediate aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), in partnership with Clear Channel Outdoor (CCO), used seven digital billboards along I-93 and other major highways in the Boston area to broadcast public safety messages. Jacqueline Maguire, a spokeswoman for the FBI, credited the bureau’s partnerships with digital signage operators across the East Coast for its ability to display photos of the suspects with the FBI hotline, on digital signage across the East Coast, as far south as Washington, D.C.

As reported by DigitalSignageToday.com, after a police officer was shot and killed during a routine traffic stop in Memphis, Tennessee, the U.S. Marshals Service activated digital billboards as part of the manhunt and the suspect turned himself into police the following week. The signage included a clear photo of the fugitive’s face along with a large “WANTED” 1st Degree Murder of a police officer” message and the toll-free phone number to call with information. Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong said the fugitive “felt the walls closing in.”

Missing and Exploited Children Campaigns

In August, the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC), partnered with Clear Channel Outdoor (CCO) to launch their ‘Summer of Hope’ billboard initiative, a national digital out-of-home (DOOH) campaign calling attention to the plight of missing children and their families. According to Clear Channel, images of missing children from Washington D.C., Northern Virginia and Maryland were displayed on the company’s digital bus shelters in Washington D.C. and digital billboards in Baltimore, Md. NCMEC and CCO expanded the initiative to other major cities, including Chicago, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. Called, the ‘Summer of Hope’ the campaign was part of the ‘Be Here for Kids’ campaign launched this past May by NCMEC and CCOA. ‘Be Here for Kids’ is a year-long national child safety awareness effort using digital billboards to communicate life-saving public safety messages, including “Never Wait 24 Hours to Report a Missing Child.”

The need for fast and effective communication with the public will only continue to grow. Emergencies happen. Both natural and manmade disasters are facts of life. As we watch the digital signage industry evolve, and the DOOH networks grow in strength and number; we will see new applications and solutions for managing real-time crisis messaging using digital signage and DOOH networks.

Photo Credit: humberriverhospital via Compfight cc