I have two young children in school. So when 10 inches of snow started to wallop the Boston area on Thursday, I could have gone searching for information on how the weather would affect our family, like many people probably did. Instead, the school information found me.
My wife and I received a total of 11 messages from the school department explaining that school would dismiss students two hours early. I received three messages: an e-mail generated by The NTI Group to everyone who previously registered their e-mail with the school; plus voicemail messages from the school superintendent to both my work and personal mobile phones.
My wife logged eight more messages: a copy of the e-mail I received; two mobile phone messages (one for each child); a voicemail on our home landline; calls from the “room parent” for each of the kids’ classes; and a personal call from a teacher to home. Plus, the school office called our house to verify that the kids’ transportation plans weren’t going to change.
I don’t recall this happening in past winters. It’s true, we’ve graduated. Now we can check the web instead of waking up early so we can listen to an alphabetized reading of school cancellations on snowy days, or watch the same list crawling on a local TV broadcast. But yesterday’s level of communication was in another league; it was inescapable.
So at the office today, I did an informal poll of coworkers to see whether my experience was unusual on a day when schools across the area were dismissing kids early. The bottom line: it was not.
Coworkers reported getting information via:
1. Personal calls to home
2. Calls to work
2. Automated voicemails from school superintendents
3. Combinations of 1 and 2 and 3.
4. Text messages to mobile handsets from a local TV station.
5. Automated voicemail, plus instructions for subscribing to automated text messages.
6. Web site notices
7. Automated voicemail that included note about pending traffic jams (they were legion around here yesterday).
There was more. One person reported receiving an automated voicemail at her home, but since she has no children in school, she figures it was meant for the previous owner of that telephone number. Another reported a similar experience, where the automated message was clearly intended for someone else. (Those database updates are difficult, aren’t they?)
And in some communities, there may have been a subtle form of age discrimination going on: three parents of high school students reported not receiving any communication from the school; instead their kids called or texted them the news about school getting out early.
Finally, one colleague noted that school officials or community authorities could easily tailor these alerts for other situations: emergencies, natural disasters, and more. I knew that, of course, having watched the recent news about authorities using a “211 service” to alert residents during the wildfires in San Diego County, among other events.
But it’s worth repeating: receiving news you can use without having to go looking for it is a good thing.