A while back I heard about this program in Arlington, VA where you can be alerted when critical events happen in the area (learn about the program here). They'll send you e-mail and an SMS message letting you know what's going on. I saw it, and thought "well, I should sign up for it...but chances are, if there's an emergency, I'll hear about it somewhere else first."
Boy was I wrong.
A few days ago we noticed a drop in water pressure. It turns out there was a massive water main break in the county. How did I learn about it? By first just ignoring the problem, and then calling a neighbor and finally by googling around. Had I been on Arlington Alert, I would have gotten an SMS message immediately. So I signed up.
And I was rewarded today with another SMS alert:
GW Parkway northbound is closed until further notice from Rt. 233 bridge to 395 due to police activity. SH
This is incredibly valuable information to know. I'm now totally sold on this whole alert via SMS thing.
One of the key questions is, can they manage to send out information with the right level of urgency? The above note is good because a major road was closed. But I certainly don't need to know about every traffic problem in the city.
Still, I think there's a valuable lesson in here. Give people the right data when they need it, and you've got a customer for life.