How mobile apps were used to broadcast the state of emergency in Calgary

The City of Calgary has used social media and mobile applications since 2010 as a way of communicating with the public.  Calgary has also been using push notifications to their apps for a variety of reasons, notably through their Road Conditions mobile application that alerts Calgarians when they need to remove their cars from the street during snow events so they can be plowed.

In late 2012, the City of Calgary’s application emergency notification broadcast system was launched, which allows the City of Calgary from a single interface to do a push notification to all of their mobile applications.  This push system was first used to alert and inform the public during the Crowchild Trail pipe break that closed or interrupted traffic on the southbound lanes for a number of weeks. 

When the state of emergency was declared in Calgary in advance of the flooding, over 92,000 apps where sent messages.  The mayor and the city also used Twitter and Facebook to share the information.  While the official Facebook and Twitter postings would last on average 2 minutes in a users news stream, the push notifications buzzed in citizen’s pockets and remained active in the notification menus of the devices until they were dismissed.

Their mobile apps allowed the city to cut through the signal to noise ratio on Facebook to get the message out quickly, and in an official manner through the apps they owned.  Their apps also only display the official Facebook and Twitter streams of the city helping to eliminating the sort of misinformation seen on these networks during Hurricane Sandy in New York and New Jersey.  Now while it didn’t stop certain citizens from trying to canoe the Bow river during the flooding, it did prove an effective and loud way of getting the information out effectively for the City of Calgary.