Emergency Notification Systems:
A Complete Buyers’ Guide
An Emergency Notification System is an essential tool to assist with recovering from unplanned events and assisting with auditing and compliance requirements.
When considering Emergency Notification Systems thought must, of course, be given to security and resiliency. However, ease of use and simplicity should not be overlooked. Many IT systems have been procured that sound good in theory, but are impractical and overly complicated. In turn, this results in them never being fully rolled out or utilized for their intended purpose.
In this guide we will consider what constitutes a practical and robust Emergency Notification System, and the key components that you should consider before purchasing one for your organization.
What is an Emergency Notification System?
An Emergency Notification System is a software solution used to manage an organization’s contact data and send preconfigured or bespoke messages to internal personnel and/or stakeholders when the situation requires. In an emergency the right people need to know exactly what to do. An emergency notification system ensures secure, fast delivery of your message, matched with real time response collection.
A planned event, such as a test drill, gauges an organizations’ response readiness and provides vital insight into the system’s capabilities. When an unplanned event occurs, an Emergency Notification System can ensure that the organization is well equipped to communicate to and co-ordinate their personnel in order to mitigate all forms of loss, and to ensure a return to normal working practices as quickly and smoothly as possible.
Modern advances in technology, particularly mass ownership of smartphones, has led to a variety of communication channels being opened up for everyone, whether by SMS, email, voice call or App alerts. An added bonus is the ability systems now have to easily target all personnel at once, or to target specific groups based on their location, job role or skill set.
Emergency Notification Systems should always be simple and easy to use, ensuring that – when faced with a threat or actual emergency, they can be triggered as soon as possible, thereby protecting people and significantly limiting the damage and disruption caused.
Modern Emergency Notification Systems
Technological advances have been considerable over the last twenty five years, and have resulted in a shift from tannoy systems, landline telephones, faxes and pagers to the flexibility of smartphones, desktop alerts and smart speakers.
Modern Emergency Notification Systems now support multi-channel messaging and provide, not only the ability to alert a mass audience within seconds, but for recipients to also respond – providing real time visibility and important information which can be used to co-ordinate an appropriate and informed response.
Important Features of an Emergency Notification System
When selecting an Emergency Notification System there are a number of key features that you should always consider in order to ensure that it meets your organization’s needs. Below are a list of some of the most important things to bear in mind:
Speed and Ease of Use
Speed is arguably the most critical factor when selecting an Mass Notification System, due to all emergency situations requiring instant action in order to avoid loss and damage.
Crucially, the system that you use must be able to send out a large number of alerts instantaneously to ensure that your whole audience receives the information they require within seconds. In order to ensure this, the technology used should be capable of sending out the alerts on multiple channels within this very short time frame.
It also helps to check if the Emergency Notification System can be activated on multiple platforms, such as desktops and mobile phones, thereby making the alerting activation process even quicker.
Of course, it’s not just the speed of the technology that matters. The design of the emergency notification system is essential too, as it must be as easy as possible for the operator to send out the alert in a high pressure situation, when time really is of the essence. To assist with this, the number of steps required to trigger alerts should be kept to a minimum to avoid any unnecessary delay.
An Emergency Notification System must be capable of delivering alerts across a range of communication channels.
These channels include SMS, voice calls, e-mails and designated App alerts.
All employees will have their own preferred means of receiving an alert, based upon their personal usage. In an emergency situation, however, it is wise to cover as many bases as possible to ensure that the alert is received and read promptly, taking into account changes to employees routines that may have occurred as a result of it.
It is also worth remembering that employees may not respond as readily now to alerts via email and SMS as they may have done in the past due to spam traffic and the sheer volume of messages that they now receive. A dedicated App alert has the ability to stand out, as can an automated voice call. However, for alerts deemed less urgent an SMS may still be favored.
It is extremely useful to have an emergency notification system with the ability to preload message templates, thereby simplifying and reducing the time taken to trigger an alert. This also provides the opportunity to incorporate an organizations’ agreed safety measures to each scenario, ensuring best practice if and when an emergency does arise.
Ability to Customise Alert Messages
In addition to being able to pre load message templates, it is useful to be able to customise alerts, for example by inserting a link to a document within the body of the alert. This may be useful if you wish to send a document or a map.
Ability to Target Specific Teams/Personnel
If your organization relies upon a workforce based at different locations, or employees who travel regularly, then targeting capabilities will be an important factor in your emergency response plan.
By allowing you to target specific teams or individuals with the information they require about an event, you can also ensure that unnecessary messages aren’t frequently sent through the system. This has the added benefit of the workforce as a whole not becoming desensitised to the alerting process, as a result of them receiving irrelevant or unnecessary information intended for others too often.
There may be occasions when you need to reach personnel in a specific location outside of your own facilities. Geotargeting and Geofencing enables an administrator to focus on a particular area of concern on a map and send messages to all personnel within that zone.
This targeted approach is particularly helpful in a wide range of situations from natural disasters and bomb threats to less serious situations, such as major traffic delays. It also gives you the ability to focus on personnel either directly affected or likely to be affected by the incident, without causing undue panic to those who are not.
It is now very rare for personnel not to carry a smartphone, even if they are away from their desks or laptops. It is therefore extremely beneficial to have an Emergency Notification System that can deliver alerts to a smartphone via a push notification. For a system user, the ability to activate a call out from a smartphone is also invaluable as it provides total flexibility of use.
Of course, it is key that the Emergency Notification Smartphone App is available on both iOS and Android operating systems, to ensure that it can be downloaded on the vast majority of smartphones.
While some incidents simply require a one-way alert to be sent to advise personnel of the situation and provide brief instructions about what or what not to do, there are occasions when a response is required. In these situations, the ability to create a two-way message not only enables the organization to monitor the response in real time, but provides the opportunity to send a follow up message (based on the initial response received) and co-ordinate a more informed response.
An Emergency Notification System should be able to integrate into an organizations’ existing hardware and software. To let external software systems start notifications and get the results of the notification you need an API. If you want other systems as alarm systems or process systems to activate notifications through electrical signals you need to have some sort of PLC option in the Emergency Notification System. This will automate many tasks, reducing manual input and the risk of human error.
Due to the nature of an Emergency Notification System it is often the case that your personnel’s data is stored within the system’s database. A modern Emergency Notification System should provide two factor SMS authentication and IP range control. All information, both stored and in transit, should be encrypted to ensure safe working practice and all systems should also be subject to regular penetration testing.
Your Emergency Notification System must be able to store the contact details of all your recipients and time and date stamp all messages sent to them. The visibility of this data is meant only for personnel with pre-approved clearance levels, so security is a primary concern to ensure that this data remains safe and that only authorized personnel are able to access it.
Reporting and Analytics
Real-time monitoring of the delivery of alerts and recipient’s responses are key to providing data for meaningful reporting and analytics. If a one-way alert is being sent, you will want to know when the alert lands on their device. It is worth remembering that there is a difference between a message being delivered, and a message being read. It may therefore be worthwhile to include an acknowledgement response option if you need to know that the message has been read.
On-premise or Cloud based
An Emergency Notification System is available in two forms: on-premise and Software as a Service, more commonly known as “cloud” based.
An on-premise system is hosted within an organization’s own facility and the hardware and software is all located onsite. It provides the highest level of security but attracts a higher initial cost compared to a cloud system.
A cloud system is hosted offsite within a secure data centre and does not require an installation on an organization’s site. A cloud system can be accessed from anywhere with an internet connection and is usually more cost-effective when compared to an on-premise system.
While Emergency Notification Systems should require little support once set up, it is important to consider what training and on-going support is available should some assistance be required. Whilst most issues can probably be dealt with via email and/or screen share sessions, it may be crucial for some organizations to have access to 24/7 telephone support too.
Depending on how and where your organization operates, it may be a requirement for your Emergency Notification System to support multiple languages to ensure that you are able to reach out to all personnel.
If your Emergency Notification System supports voice calls, it is also very useful if it is sophisticated enough to understand / be taught place names or industry terms that may not be part of everyday speech.
Non-Emergency Use of an emergency notification systems
Emergency Notification Systems aren’t purely for use during an emergency. They can be used for a wide range of operational requirements, providing a swift, auditable alternative to the lengthy process of making individual telephone calls or sending emails. They can also be used when there is a requirement to send secure notifications, and for managing employees who work remotely.
Who Needs an Emergency Notification System?
Any organization, regardless of size, can benefit from a reliable and secure Notification System.
Do I Need an Emergency Notification System?
An organization and its alerting requirements will always be unique to them. Due to the flexibility of modern Emergency Notification Systems it is possible to tailor the software to ensure the best outcome for you.
When assessing your requirements, a number of questions should be considered:
- Do you currently have an Emergency Notification System? If so, what is preventing it meeting your requirements?
- Will the system be used across the organization, single site or for specific requirements, for example, first aid responders?
- Who will manage the system? IT, HR or personnel across a range of departments?
- Do you have any internal systems that require integration?
Where do you want your data to be stored?
With over 20 years’ experience, RapidReach is a tried and trusted Emergency Notification System provided by notification pioneers and innovators, Enera.
Through modular design, RapidReach delivers only the functionality that you require, and in turn provides genuine value for money. In addition to our core functionality, options also include SmartPhone Alert, Desktop Alert and Speaker Alert.
In an emergency the right people need to know exactly what to do. RapidReach guarantees secure, fast delivery of your message, matched with response collection, comprehensive reporting, training and on-going support. We are also ISO accredited with an A+ security rating.
For more information or advice about how our Emergency Notification System could benefit your organization please contact us on 0800 080 7604 for a no obligation discussion of your requirements or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org