“This Is an Emergency”: Why You Should Consider an Emergency Notification System

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Emergency notification systems (ENS) are not just for government. You most likely already know that organizations can implement systems to send alerts and notifications to their employees, both in emergencies or even in the course of their day-to-day work.

In today’s post, I’ll discuss some of the types of electronic alert systems that are available to business, sketch out their benefits, and point out some of the things to be cautious about in using such platforms.

 

 

EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION SYSTEMS FOR BUSINESS

Did you get a test emergency alert from the federal government on your phone yesterday?  If not, you must have had your mobile turned off or been hanging out in a cellular dead zone.

At 2:18 p.m. Eastern time, 225 million cell phones were sent an alert in a test of a new national system of emergency mobile phone alerts.

Of course, the government isn’t the only entity which might need to swiftly send an emergency notification to a large number of people.

Fortunately, businesses can also set up systems that enable them to quickly communicate with their employees in the event of an emergency.  Such systems allow management to reach out to everyone in the organization, providing critical information about unfolding emergencies.

These alerts can be valuable in situations ranging from weather-related emergencies to fires or gas leaks to active-shooter events.

 

HOW IT WORKS

There are many third-party vendors that offer emergency notification systems that allow companies to quickly get in touch with large numbers of people. Typically, such systems are capable of sending messages over multiple channels, including text messages, email, voicemail, and fax. This ensures that everyone receives the notification.

Most systems allow employees to be filtered by groups so that messages can be sent only to those employees who need to receive them.

Typically, an administrator at the company is designated to create a notification and select the appropriate recipients. These could range from only people in a select group to everyone in the database.

Notifications can be made in both emergency and non-emergency situations. Such systems are typically faster and more thorough at communicating with large numbers of people than nonautomated methods such as SMS texting or phone trees.

 

HOW IT HELPS

The following are some of the main benefits companies can derive from using an Emergency Notification System (ENS):

  1. Speedy notification. Most notification systems are able to send voice messaging, text messaging, and email messaging to entire organizations in a matter of minutes. Some systems are capable of sending pre-written messages in as little as one step!
  2. Real-time communication. The use of an Emergency Notification System allows for real-time communication. With advanced technology, these notifications offer real-time follow-up instruction, reports, and assistance.
  3. Clarity and consistency. In the case of an emergency, communicating clearly is vital. With an automated notification system, communication is consistent with a wide range of people. ENS platforms support the notification of all critical members within an enterprise and facilitate a timely gathering for discussion and immediate response.
  4. Targeting of recipients. Most ENS platforms allow the administrators to assign employees to different groups and send messages only to specific groups. This flexibility can be highly valuable in an emergency. It could permit you, for example, to send a special message only to designated initial responders.
  5. Inbound calling. This is a common feature of contemporary ENS platforms. It allows the administrator to receive confirmation that the intended recipients received the message. For example, such a feature can allow initial responders to confirm receipt and let the administrator know their availability and location.
  6. Multi-channel delivery methods. Some ENS platforms include delivery methods such as voice recording, text to speech conversion in multiple languages, push notifications, rich text formatting, and SMS.

 

THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND

Needless to say, ENS platforms are not a silver bullet for the problem of quickly getting in touch with your employees during an emergency.

Here are some of the things that can occasionally come up, limiting the usefulness of an ENS:

  1. Out-of-date contact information. This is by far the most common problem organizations encounter with their ENS. The notification system is only as good as the information it relies on. As people’s contact information changes, their new details must be captured in a way to ensure that they are migrated to the ENS in a timely manner. Regular testing of the ENS can help ensure that information is current.
  2. Possible system failure. Though unlikely, it’s possible that your notification system might suffer a glitch when you need it most. For this reason, you should have a backup method of communicating available. And to reduce the chance of your experiencing such a glitch, test your ENS often and make sure it is well-integrated with your organization. It’s not unusual that supposed system glitches are actually caused by user error.
  3. Cell coverage. Some employees may not have cell service in their physical location, whether it’s in the home office or out in the field. Others might routinely turn their phones off in certain situations. These factors can limit the effectiveness of the ENS. By making sure the message is sent out through multiple channels and to multiple devices (cell phone, email, desk phone, etc.), you increase the likelihood that all of your intended recipients will receive the message.
  4. Cost. An ENS platform is a service provided by a third-party vendor. Due to the emergency-related nature of the system, it can be difficult to determine the ratio of cost to value. These days, the use of a reliable ENS can be obtained for a fairly minimal price, or it can be quite expensive. When looking at emergency notification systems, it is important to consider the features that you require, the number of contacts or groups that you will want to have and whether the ENS limits that number. You’ll also want to consider what additional fees there may be, such as overage costs or setup fees. It is also useful to determine if there are ways in which you might be able to use the system outside of emergency situations.
  5. Training and Preparation. The best ENS out there won’t help an organization that does not know how to use it, or to use it to its fullest potential. Many systems offer templates, allowing the organization to create sample messages in advance rather than trying to craft an important message in the heat of a crisis situation. Similarly, if the system administrator – or even the message recipients – don’t know how to use the system its usefulness will be limited.

 

ONE WAY OR ANOTHER

Emergency notification systems are not just for governments. It has been shown that businesses can derive many benefits from using such systems, as described above. The decision of whether or not it’s worthwhile to invest in such a system will vary from business to business, but we believe that with the wide variety of ENS platforms available there is something out there for everyone.

Ultimately, what is most important is not that every organization implement an ENS platform, but that every organization has some method in place that allows it to communicate quickly with its employees in the event of an emergency. And whatever method is chosen, the organization should regularly test and update it so they can be confident that it will work when needed.

FURTHER READING

For more information on crisis management, emergency notification systems, and other hot topics in business continuity check out these recent posts from BCMMETRICS and MHA Consulting:

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