Robocalls often have a bad rap, primarily because scammers abuse them to defraud consumers. But robocalls are also good tools to have in an emergency to quickly alert the public.

What is the Definition of a Robocall?

A robocall is an automated phone call that plays a pre-recorded message to the recipient. While the delivery method of robocalls originates from a dialer, the automated message is the second factor that classifies a robocall. A live telemarketing agent using a dialer to reach prospects is not technically considered to be a robocall.

What Kinds of Robocalls are Legal?

While the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) laid the groundwork for stopping robocalls, it left in some exemptions regarding the kinds of robocalls that are still legal. Political and emergency calls are the two main types of robocalls that can still be legally conducted.

While these are still legal, they have strict regulations that callers must adhere to when robocalling for political and emergency services.

Robocalls must:

  • Provide the identity of the organization conducting the call
  • Provide contact information to the person called in the event the called person wants or needs to reach the caller. Contact information can be a telephone number or mailing address

In light of COVID-19, the FCC has recently updated its Declaratory Ruling of May 2019. This ruling exists to promote the assurance that crucial health and safety info is efficiently disseminated to the American public without federal law violations.

FCC Declaratory Ruling Update & COVID-19

The Declaratory Ruling’s update aims to clarify the exception posed by COVID-19. To decided if a call or text is relation to the coronavirus qualifies as an emergency, th following is examined:

  • Caller identity
  • Call or message content

The ruling specifies that any calls or messages that contain ads, services, marketing, or debt collection information are not “emergency calls”. Even if these are in reference to COVID-19. These calls are subject to the TCPA’s requirements that the caller must have at some point received the recipient’s consent.

When are Emergency Robocalls Essential?

While there are a variety of instances in which an organization might conduct emergency robocalls, most of these boil down to localized emergency information, weather services, education, workplace, and healthcare, such as:

Local emergency alert

A break in the line or water contamination needs fast dissemination.

Extreme weather alert

Municipalities must alert residents when extreme weather is headed their way, such as a blizzard, hurricane, or tornado. Weather services may at times send out mass alerts to inform residents of extreme conditions or road closures in the area. While the National Weather Service typically doesn’t do these themselves, third parties or local entities often coordinate these efforts.

School or campus emergency alert

If there’s a school emergency, such as an active shooter, parents must be advised of precautions and steps being taken. Educational institutes actually issue a surprising number of robocalls to enrollees. These can vary from threats of malicious activities, school shootings, or wild animals on the loose.

In addition, schools may conduct robocalls to students to provide sensitive information about enrollment, financial aid, or other school services they provide. Recently, informing students and parents about meal programs and internet connection points have made the lists of robocalls from schools.

Workplace or office emergency

Alert staff in the event of an emergency at the office or other place of business.

Health alert

The recent ongoing health crisis requires fast dissemination of information. Emergency service agencies may also conduct robocalls to residents and business owners to inform them of a local crisis. Typically these are done on local and community levels and may provide information about possible dangers or where to acquire food or supplies.

Closing Thoughts

While the number of emergency robocalls being legally conducted pales in comparison to fraudulent robocalls, these still serve an important role in localized situations. Unfortunately, the organizations conducting these types of legal robocalls often become targeted by scammers to spoof legitimate phone numbers in an attempt to defraud the public.

Monitoring and managing your organization’s phone numbers is vital in discovering if your numbers have become the victim of call spoofing. In addition, identifying any flags on your outbound numbers will help ensure your calls aren’t incorrectly getting blocked by carriers.