I was talking to my family about the Tech for Good skill-building competition, and each of us was discussing what sorts of really useful things might be worthy of entering, that didn't already exist. Using Storyline, it is relatively easy for my kids to participate in building skills alongside me, so when one of them suggested a skill that helps families in an emergency, it seemed too perfect to pass up. After a quick scan of the Alexa store to ensure a similar skill wasn't already available, we went to work.
What it does
An Emergency Evacuation relies on the guidelines established by Ready.gov, the US Department of Homeland Security, to promote emergency preparation. In the event of an emergency evacuation, it will walk the user through the most critical things they should remember as they prepare to evacuate. In addition, when the skill is launched prior to the need to evacuate, it goes into greater detail about how to be prepared for an emergency evacuation, should one occur. It also includes some premium content related to emergency kits, and emergency plans for children, pets, etc.
How I built it
It was built using Storyline, and leveraging information provided by Ready.gov. Once we had developed the idea, we began to think about what would be a reliable source of information that would be fairly straightforward, and would not leave debate as to whether it was an authoritative source for this type of information. With that decided, we began to build out the structure of the skill based on the information that we found online. After completing the initial components, we decided we could go deeper, and that it might be a good opportunity to incorporate in-skill purchasing. We included several products available for purchase as bonus content, each containing much more information related to the specific requests.
Challenges I ran into
With this skill, the most significant challenge was in ensuring that, as Alexa read longer blocks of text, it was easily understood, and did not rush. In the event of an emergency, the user may want to make a list of Alexa's suggestions, and will not want to have to start over if something is missed. It was a time-consuming process to listen to each statement and leverage SSML to ensure that each was spoken slowly enough as to be understood and written down, as the need may arise. Inserting breaks is fairly straightforward; having not used much SSML beyond that in the past, modifying pronunciation was a bit of a stretch for me.
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
We are just so excited to be putting this skill out there. Should the need arise for someone to use this skill, just knowing that it could help to alleviate some of the stress and anxiety in an otherwise highly stressful period, is very cool. This is a very simple skill that we could absolutely see making a difference in the lives of those affected by emergencies. It's simple, practical, and relevant. And we put it together as a family; so there are a lot of elements that we are proud of.
What I learned
As I noted above, leveraging SSML was a bit of a stretch, and there is a lot more that we can do with that in the future, I am sure. We have also not had to conceptualize what in-skill purchasing would look like, nor what enhanced content might garner a small one-time fee. It was definitely a learning experience processing what that might look like. Lastly, I think we came away from this skill with an appreciation for an Alexa skill's ability to do one thing, really well, and to provide the right information in a useful way, to make a difference in peoples' lives.
What's next for an Emergency Evacuation
We really wanted this to be a simple skill for a specific purpose, and we think that has been pretty successful. We might look at sending a checklist to users' Alexa apps via a card or a hyperlink via email, or allowing them to customize the items that the skill reminds them of, so it is more personal. We are working on an upgrade that will allow users to access additional content via in-skill purchasing. This will include such things as Emergency Planning Guides, a Kids Planning Guide, and more. We will be keeping an ear to the ground to hear what our users want this skill to do next. It's really about meeting the needs of the users who are dealing with emergencies, so we just want it to be a valuable resource to them.