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Preparing for Disaster with the Power of Voice

"Alexa, how can we help save lives?".... How we developed an Alexa Skill with The American Red Cross notifying US citizens of hurricane alerts.

Alexa Hurricane Skill

The Challenge?

The American Red Cross has worked with 3 SIDED CUBE for several years on a suite of mobile apps that have helped to alert users to natural hazards.

One particular concern that arises every year during hurricane season is the risk to communities who aren’t alerted or prepared for the devastation that comes with a storm.

With almost 50 million Americans having access to a smart speaker in their home, we were challenged to use voice technology to broaden the reach of the hazard alert platform we created for the non-profit organisation.

Alexa Skill Hurricane Alert Invocation

The Solution

We tasked our development team to create an Alexa Skill that was simple yet informative. Taking the best feature from our Emergency app; real-time status updates and hazards notifications.

We created a Voice User Interface (VUI) that would empower users who activate the Skill to be aware of imminent hurricanes and prepare them to stay safe.

The ‘Hurricane Alerts by The American Red Cross’ Alexa Skill was designed to be accessible with the invocation ‘Alexa, open Hurricane Alerts’ to start the process of keeping you and your home protected. User flows were plotted to ensure all aspects of a conversation were considered and planned, helping to make accessing hurricane notifications as easy as possible.

Developing an Alexa Skill–especially one that will pass Amazon’s stringent Certification process–can be difficult. Working closely with Amazon’s team we were able to create an incredibly powerful feature for Echo devices that will help to keep a nation safe and prevent disaster.

Alexa Skill Hurricane Alert Notification

What Does The Skill Do?

MONITOR YOUR LOCATION

As well as the location of your friends and family. Easily add your home and additional places by talking to Alexa. See your location through the Alexa dashboard on your mobile. Knowing when and where the hurricane warning is will help you keep peace-of-mind.

DISASTER PREPAREDNESS

Prepare for the worst by learning the best steps and measures to take before, during and after a hurricane. From preparing your home to putting together an emergency kit, Alexa will keep you and your family safe.

NOTIFICATION ALERTS

A visual aid of a yellow alert will let you know that Alexa has an update for you. Ask your smart speaker "Alexa, what are my notifications" to read your alerts and stay informed. Interact with the Hurricane Alerts skill to add or remove notifications.

"Alexa, ask Hurricane Alerts if there's an active warning for my area"

Find out if your location is at risk with a simple voice command.

Raising our voice

Our ‘Hurricane Alerts by The American Red Cross’ Skill is built and hosted on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) platform. Our developers built the back-end using NodeJS, with data stored on the platform. The VUI (Voice User Interface) was designed to make a visual representation of the human interaction using Coggle to create a flow of possible conversational routes.

To make testing and debugging possible, the implementation is monitored with CloudWatch, which allows us to flag any issues that arise due to the changes in voice technology. Using AWS and serverless technology such as AWS Lamda and its powerful possibilities, we were able to build the skill to be secure, reliable and scalable, whilst having fun testing Alexa’s capabilities.

The Hurricane Alerts Skill truly extends the reach of the American Red Cross to warn of hazards and teaches people how to prepare through the use of convenient and digestible encounters that harness the power of conversation.

Fun Fact

One of the biggest challenges we faced came down to our accents! There were some terrible attempts to replicate the American vernacular. Our British developers had to explore many localised languages in order to test the Skill, if you ever visit CUBE HQ ask Holly to do her (supposedly) Texan voice, you won’t be disappointed!

Alexa Skill Activate

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