Commentary

This Week in Bad Messaging: Amber Alerts, Uncommunicated Blackouts, And Unneeded Corporate Apologies!

Last week was the week where no one had trouble communicating about the #sharknado; this week was the one where no one could get their communications right. At some point, I can only hope we’ll get better at matching the swiftness and accuracy with which we can communicate completely fictitious tornadoes made of sharks, with swiftness and accuracy when it comes to stuff that actually matters. We’re not there yet.

With that said, here’s this week in bad messaging:

Case in point #1: The New York area’s early Wednesday morning – as in somewhere between 3 a.m. and 4 a.m. – Amber Alert to help authorities find a tot whose mother had abducted him from a foster-care facility.

I know what you’re thinking: I’m going to complain about my phone going off in the middle of the night. But, among the few sane things I do is sleep without my phone right next to me. I didn’t hear it. My complaint is that the Amber Alert had so little information as to be useless. As far as I could tell, the Alert – which has subsequently vanished from my phone – contained no other information, other than that it was an Amber Alert. Sheesh.

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The good news is that it did help find the child, who is now safe and sound. But you do have to wonder about its timing. Nothing kills what is basically a good idea like having it wake up millions of people in the middle of the night.

Case in point #2: The great blackout of July 2013. OK, our blackout last night wasn’t Sandy-style great, though we did lose power for five hours, starting at about 8:15 p.m. Once again, the best source of information was Facebook,, where our local group had pretty accurately figured out which streets had lost power and when within less than a half hour, using whatever battery life was left in our phones.

The problem is that there seem to have been blackouts throughout town over the last few days – the New York area is in the midst one of its annual summer heat waves  –  with no coordinated response from on-high to communicate about them. We constantly get alerts sent to our home about severe thunderstorms, or flood warnings – which is nice to know, but we live on a hill – but in the case of blackouts, nada, zippo, zilch.

Though it’s unclear what caused the outage, let’s suppose that reminding people that a blackout or brownout could happen just might be useful; it’s a subtle nudge to check the flashlights, power up the cellphone, buy some ice, and do something that might prevent it: use less electricity. But no. We were – wait for it –  left in the dark.

Case in point #3: The problem we didn’t know we had. So, at about 11:50 p.m. last night – when my daughter and I were deep into our slumber party in the relatively cool, and very dark, basement – I apparently got an email from my Internet/phone/cable provider, Cablevision, informing us that “we may be experiencing an unplanned service outage.” You’ve got to hand it to ‘em for accuracy, because it’s pretty hard to have any of those services working when you have no electricity.

This was followed at 2:06 a.m. by a mea culpa email from Cablevision, explaining that service was now back and that “We apologize for the inconvenience and thank you for your patience.” That was very nice of them – as was the phone call I got a little after 9 a.m. this morning, also apologizing for the outage that Cablevision had nothing to do with.

I’ll close this column by pointing out that the biggest problem with the blackout was that our attempt to record the re-airing of “Sharknado” – since we missed it the first time – was tragically cut short. We only got the first hour. Excuse me now while I go tweet about it, and other important stuff.

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