“Pushing The Limits” – Limitations of Push Notifications for Emergency Alerts

Alertable Notification

Citizens spend the majority of their digital time on mobile, web and social media. People carry smartphones wherever they go, be that in their home, at work, while commuting, or traveling longer distances. Push notifications take advantage of the mobile channel to reach these citizens. But this is not without limitations.

To receive push notifications, people must first have the receiving app installed on their device.
Internet connectivity required and opt-in to receive notifications. Receiving notifications requires a device to be powered on with a valid data connection (whether through WiFi or cellular networks). If a device has no power, or if data networks are congested or have poor signal strength, the timely delivery of notifications may be impacted.

There are also considerations for notification sending. Both iOS and Android push platforms implement “Quality of Service” (QoS) mechanisms that will retry delivery of messages that cannot immediately reach devices. However, QoS imposes a limit on the number of message that can be queued – if notifications are sent too frequently previously queued messages get “bumped” meaning not all messages will be delivered.

And there are limitations on the amount of data allowed in a push notification – limits on notification payload is 2 KB for iOS and 4 KB for Android. Beyond these technical limits, the data that gets displayed when a notification is viewed is also limited. Notifications provide a short, glanceable amount of content, and are not intended for complete information.

Understanding these limitations, it’s possible to effectively leverage push notifications. Marketing and promoting Apps, and informing users to enable notifications is key to ensuring citizens can be reached. Sending short messages will catch people’s attention, and providing the ability to quickly get more information and instructions on how to stay safe allows them to confirm details of an emergency, and take appropriate action. And finally, supplementing push notifications with other communication channels, such as social networks and radio and television, helps ensure emergency alerts reach as many citizens as possible.

Take care. Be prepared.

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