Choosing the right emergency mass notification system for your organisation is a big decision. There are many different providers in the market, all offering different solutions for crisis communications. They also come with widely varying price tags.
Perhaps you are looking for an emergency mass notification platform for the first time, or have been tasked with upgrading your present system. Companies and firms will have different requirements depending on their type of operation, number of staff, number of offices and geographical location.
You will need to consider a range of factors, when making your choice, some of which are complex. To help you on this journey, we’ve created a comprehensive list of considerations, which combines detailed research with our expertise in crisis management and business continuity.
In an emergency, getting the right messages to the right people can literally be the difference between life and death. Failing to get in touch with a key individual or sending a confusing or poorly composed message can have severe consequences.
Here, we look at considerations when choosing a mass notification system. We examine what the key features do and why they could be a ‘must have’ for you.
You want an emergency mass notification system that is capable of sending mass alerts simultaneously through multiple communication channels – SMS, email, instant messages, push notifications etc.
Relying on a single channel, such as text or email, increases the risk of emergency notifications being missed. Which can have significant consequences depending on the severity of the incident.
Choosing a platform capable of sending multi-channel communications improves deliverability and visibility of emergency alerts.
You also get the flexibility to choose different channels depending on the type of alert. As well as the ability to align communications with existing business channels.
Look for an emergency mass notification with the following multi-channel functionality:
Mass Alerting or Group Notifications are the beating heart of an emergency mass notification system. An excellent definition of what they do and what they’re for comes from the US Department of Homeland Security:
“Notification systems allow for real-time dissemination of information and intelligence via equipment such as cellular phones, pagers, personal digital assistants, computers, etc. Their primary function is to quickly alert responders to potential threats or emergency situations and to provide direction on how to respond to alerts.”
Mass notification alerts provide all your stakeholders with the information they need to respond to an emergency. Some systems offer two-way communications so staff can respond to your messages.
This enables you to check if your staff are safe and also provides you with up-to-date information from those with ‘boots on the ground’. This will help give your crisis management team a better situational understanding of what’s happening if the team is working remotely.
For example, if there is an active shooter situation, staff can use the Mass Alert system to let the crisis team know their status and where they are located.
Mass Alerts are at the sharp end of any emergency notification platform. This means that ease of use is paramount. Whatever system you choose must be intuitive and not leave admins, users or recipients of messages confused or unable to operate the system. Work can be done ahead of time when it comes to setting up groups and message templates.
During an emergency incident, particularly in the first minutes and hours, you will need to get messages out fast. Templates are the key to making this happen as simply and easily as possible.
Creating pre-scripted messages and tailoring them for specific incidents is a job that should be done ahead of time.
Even if the boilerplate messages are changed during an incident it means crisis managers aren’t starting from a blank sheet of paper. These templated alerts should also feature links to websites where staff can access resources that might help them during a specific type of emergency.
Mass alerts must reach the right people. Informing someone their building is on fire and they must vacate it immediately is hardly going to inspire confidence in the crisis management team if the building on fire is in London when the message is received in New York.
Setting up groups is a key piece of work that must be completed in advance. By segmenting your stakeholders, you will be able to reach all your audiences in a secure and safe manner in a matter of moments.
The system will also require an effective sign-off process as to who has authority to initiate and send messages. It will probably be found in your BC plan, but thought must be given as to what constitutes an emergency or crisis and when the mass notification system should be rolled out.
This may well be when your Crisis Management Team (CMT) is stood up. The boilerplate messages discussed above must be approved by the relevant senior manager.
When choosing an emergency mass notification system, you want mass alerting functionality allowing you to:
Following the pandemic, people are no longer in offices eight hours a day, five days a week. Staff may not be travelling in the way they did, but organisations are now dealing with an atomised workforce many of whom are working remotely from a variety of locations.
All of which means that a modern emergency mass notification system must be developed as a mobile-first solution. Just about everyone has a smart phone and sitting on their phone must be an app that is an integral part of your crisis comms platform.
You need to be confident you are able to reach your audiences anywhere, anytime. A best-in-class emergency notification app should be able to handle virtually the whole range of features found on the desktop version.
Your emergency notification system's app should meet the following checklist requirements:
Time is a critical factor in an emergency, you want a mass notification system that allows for fast communication.
Your emergency mass notification system will influence speed of communication form creation to delivery in two distinct ways:
You want a system that offers ease of use and built-in functionality to accelerate message creation and distribution. In addition, you want a range of communication channels available with the fastest communication speed.
When looking for a platform, you’ll want to look at the following:
Built-in system functionality
Some channels are faster than others when delivering an emergency alert.
One of the key decisions for selecting your emergency mass notification system is whether you plan to deploy it on-premises or in the cloud. There are several key factors to consider:
Deploying the platform on-premises requires your in-house IT team to manage, maintain and update the system. As long as your team have the requisite skills then you can benefit from improved security and integration with local systems.
However, this comes at increased cost due to the additional human resource required to manage the platform. You also face a significant risk of your platform becoming unavailable if internal systems go offline due to power outages, network failures, or a cyber-attack.
A cloud-based emergency mass notification system can offer you significant benefits over on-premises deployments.
Most importantly, cloud-based systems offer more robust failover scenarios. Ensuring far greater resilience and availability. It would take a worldwide network failure - which to date has never occured - to prevent your system from remaining available.
Cloud-based systems are also managed by the provider, meaning you don’t have to worry about resourcing the expertise to manage, maintain and update your platform. Of course, you still need to know how to use it.
Lastely, explore whether your provider offers single tenant cloud hosting, as this can offer you significant security enhancements for your deployment.
Depending on your deployment plans for your emergency mass notification system, here's what you should take in to consideration
When looking at emergency mass notification systems, you want a platform that integrates with your existing technology setup.
This can offer significant benefits such as:
When looking at integration features of your emergency mass notification platform, here’s what you should look for:
When choosing an emergency mass notification system, you want a provider you can trust who delivers a quality product. You’ll want to do a full background check of providers to assess their quality.
Look into who they work with, what people say about them, whether they win awards and achieve certification. These are strong indicators of the quality of your emergency mass notification software provider.
When doing these quality checks, you’re always looking for independent third-party information.
You can’t simply rely on the vendors website and what the salesperson tells you over the phone. You need to dig a little deeper for the full picture and peace of mind.
When researching emergency mass notification software vendors, use this checklist to assess their suitability:
When using your emergency mass notification system, you will eventually run into a situation where you need support from your provider.
You want a partner who provides a wide range of customer support services, through multiple channels. Giving you the means to solve any issues you might be having, whether it’s through a self-service portal or expert hands-on support. Available when you need it, with minimal delay for serious incidents.
Investigate the customer support package(s) available from your provider, pay attention to whether it’s included or an optional extra provided at an additional cost.
When exploring the customer support capabilities of emergency mass notification providers, these are the considerations you’ll want to factor into your decision:
The original communication channel used by mass notification software was SMS or text messages, and they still have a role to play.
But the way the world communicates is changing. Instant messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp and Slack, are typically now the primary port of call in the communication landscape. This is exactly the type of tool you need in a crisis; it’s fast, instant and targeted.
But there are problems with using existing technology such as WhatsApp and Slack for emergency notification.
WhatsApp doesn’t allow crisis managers to view conversations and groups unless they are invited to do so and when it comes to a post-incident review where conversations and document sharing needs to be analysed, WhatsApp sides with the users and not the crisis managers.
Your Crisis Management Team must have visibility of what is being said, what documents are being shared and what decision and actions are being taken.
What firms need is an instant messaging channel that is designed from the ground up with emergency communications in mind. One that is secure, has corporate oversight and can readily be segmented into groups or teams that need to speak to each other. In Europe it must be GDPR compliant. The system should also be able to send pictures and documents.
In a crisis, speed is of the essence, and instant messaging channels are a great part of the modern crisis comms arsenal which allow crisis managers to see what actions, decisions and tasks are being undertaken and why.
Your instant messaging functionailty should include the following features:
In an emergency having all stakeholders contact details in once place is hugely beneficial. All staff and external stakeholder contacts should be held on both the desktop version of your emergency comms platform and on the smart phone app.
In Europe, your contacts directory must be GDPR compliant. It must sync automatically with you HR database as staff leave and join.
Your emergency mass notification software should have contacts directory functionality supporting:
In a pandemic and post-pandemic world it’s unlikely a crisis management team will all be sat together in a conference room. Crisis management like many other aspects of business is now often handled remotely.
You'll want a platform that supports teleconferencing. This brings your crisis management team together on a conference call so that actions and decisions can be made in real-time.
The process of setting up a conference call should be quick and simple. It shouldn't require the team to dial in numbers or PIN codes. Chosen contacts should be sent an invitation and placed in the conference without delay.
You want functionality that supports conference call recording for auditing purposes and wider communication to staff and stakeholders if required.
Teleconferencing in your emergency mass comms platform should allow you to:
Your emergency mass notification platform must provide a home for all your essential crisis management and business continuity documents. This will include your business continuity plan, specific crisis playbooks, checklists and action cards. In fact, all the documents you may need in an emergency.
Your emergency comms system should have the ability to share entire documents and also be able to annotate and share specific pages with your staff.
Ideally all the documents should be available offline so they can be accessed even when connectivity fails. The documents must appear in both the desktop console version and on your smartphone app.
Functionality of document accessibility in your emergency mass notification platform should allow staff to:
In an emergency, the ability to post audio message updates on a designated phone line can be very beneficial. AI powered technology now allows text-to-voice messages to be created at the touch of a keyboard. Keystrokes can be converted into many different languages, voices and accents.
Stakeholders are provided with a dedicated hotline phone number for them to call for the latest information. Different numbers, containing specific information can be assigned to staff, the general public, journalists or families and friends.
The system should also have a voicemail option so callers can leave messages and a PIN protect option if material is of a confidential nature. Stakeholders should be able to sign up to hotline alerts notifying them when a new message is available.
Your platform should support audio hotline messages allowing you to:
Inevitably price will inform your choice of emergency mass notification system. Those platforms with more features may be more expensive, but you need to consider if these are features you really require.
Many mass alerting systems have come on the market recently and are based on more contemporary architecture than the older models and are far less expensive than some of the more established providers.
Shop around, most providers will offer a free trail with a member of their staff taking you through a demo.
Shop around, most providers will offer a free trail with a member of their staff taking you through a demo.
Use the above checklists to make sure the features you require are included in their offering. Then compare prices, after care and the ability of their systems to integrate with any systems you currently use.
Nowadays, mass notification systems are far more affordable and should offer a pricing structure to fit within your budget.
A emergency mass notification system must be a key part of your company’s emergency response. You can’t afford to be without one. Choose well.
When exploring pricing for emergency mass communication software, factor in the following considerations: