Top 15 Emergency Notification System Features

As recommended by the providers

Discover the must have features for an emergency mass notification system, according to the providers who build them. Helping you make sure you choose the best system for your organisation.

Written by Ed Jones
Marketing Strategist @ YUDU Sentinel

When you’re thinking about adopting an emergency notification system, you need a platform that is right for your business.

This is a system you will turn in the worst-case scenarios. One whose tools you will rely on to communicate in high-pressure situations where employee and public safety are at risk, the stakes are high.

In choosing your emergency notification system, you want to make the right decision. To do this, you need to be aware of the key features required in a leading software platform. To help you in this process, we have compiled the top 15 emergency notification system features.

Instead of simply relying upon our own expertise and opinions, we’ve taken a research-driven approach to provide you with the best possible guidance. We’ve tracked down 8 articles created by our competitors, collected together all the features listed and then ordered them based on how many times they appeared.

Here’s what we found, the top 15 emergency notification features as recommended by providers:

  1.   Multichannel communication
  2.   Easy to use
  3.   Customer support
  4.   Mobile application
  5.   Availability

  6.   Two-way communication
  7.   Reporting & analytics
  8.   Integrations
  9.   Geofencing
  10. Contact groups

  11.   Message templates
  12.   Speed
  13.   Enterprise security
  14.   Multi-language
  15.   Teleconferencing

1.   Multichannel Communication - 7 mentions

The primary function of an emergency notification system is communication. So, it’s unsurprising that multichannel communication is the number one feature recommended by providers.

When an emergency occurs, you want to notify everyone affected by the situation. To ensure their safety, gather information, and prompt them into action to resolve the emergency. The ability to send your emergency alerts through multiple channels will help improve awareness, increasing the number of people receiving and reading your messages.

Multichannel communications improve awareness of emergency alerts by:

  • Allowing recipients to receive their notifications through preferred communication channels, while senders can send additional alerts to backup channels.
  • Ensuring individuals receive emergency notifications across all their devices - desktop, tablet, and smartphone.
  • Attracting attention to alerts with multiple on-screen prompts like pop-ups and app notifications. Audible alerts can also accompany message notifications on smartphones, which can even be customised and overwrite local device settings for phones on silent.

You want emergency alerting software that supports the selection of multiple communication channels, including:

  • Text message
  • Email
  • Programmable voice messages
  • Mobile app push notifications
  • Instant messaging
  • Social media

2.   Easy to use - 6 mentions

When every second counts, simple to use emergency notification software lets you send your critical message or warning faster with improved clarity. Ensuring those in harm’s way are well-informed and can be made safe sooner, minimising risk.

Delivering an emergency notification system that is easy to use is a feature of paramount importance for providers, featured in 6 of the 8 articles we read.

Here at Sentinel, we understand making a tool simple to use is almost as important as the functionality it provides. An emergency notification system that delivers ease-of-use will:

  • Let you build and send an emergency alert in a few simple steps, supported with clear instructions.
  • Provide functionality to accelerate sending notifications while minimising effort - contact groups, message templates, drag and drop.
  • Deliver intuitive software design that requires minimal use and training to master the full capabilities of the platform.
  • Clean navigation that makes it quick and easy to move through the platform and use different functions.

3.   Customer support - 6 mentions

While not part of the platform itself, the quality of customer support accompanying your emergency notification system is a key feature. Even with the most intuitive platform, you will eventually want and require customer support. Initial system configuration and implementation is typically the time when you will need the most support.

The great news for you is that 6 out of 8 providers agree, highlighting customer support among their recommended top emergency notification system features. Although there are some differing opinions of what constitutes high-quality customer support, most providers agree that:

  • You should be able to access customer support 24/7, 365 days a year.
  • Ideally, your support will be delivered locally (the same country).
  • It should be delivered through a dedicated resource, such as an account manager.
  • Customer support should be available through multiple channels - phone, email, instant messaging, support desk tickets.
  • A range of support types are available, including self-service, live-chat, screen-sharing, remote access and hands-on support.
  • The provider will offer a range of training resources that can include videos, guides, webinars, and in-person events.

If you’re ever enquiring about customer support, these are the questions you will want to present to your provider:

  • Who will offer the support?
  • When is this support available?
  • Which communication channels are available for contacting support?
  • What type of support is available, and through which channels?
  • Will I have an account manager or dedicated support engineer?
  • Is the support local?

4.   Mobile applications - 6 mentions

Emergency situations won’t always occur when you’re in the office, and they could compromise your local network and technology systems. In these situations, you still need access to your emergency notification system to send alerts. This is where a mobile application comes in.

An enterprise-grade app will extend the functionality of your emergency notification system to mobile devices for both the admin and end-users.

For administrators, it will:

  • Provide direct access to your emergency notification platform from any compatible internet-connected smartphone or tablet device.
  • Let you utilise the full functionality of the system anytime, anywhere, independent of your local network and systems.
  • Create an additional emergency communication channel through mobile app notifications.

For end-users, it will:

  • Create a trusted source where employees and the public can receive emergency communications.
  • Offer a new preferred channel through which employees can choose to be alerted.
  • Present more visible emergency alerts with pop-up messages on the home screen and a customised alert notification sound.

Top of the range enterprise mobile app solutions for your emergency notification system can also unlock additional features like:

  • The ability to create and join secure instant message groups.
  • Access to files critical in emergency situations, like evacuation procedures and action cards.
  • The option to download these files to the local device, giving your users offline access
  • Mobile app push functionality to ensure these files remain up-to-date.
  • A portal through which you can access everyday company information.

5.   Availability - Cloud deployment model - 6 mentions

Rounding off the top 5 features for emergency notification systems is availability. As referenced by the majority of providers, this is a feature that appears synonymous with a cloud deployment model.

The best emergency notification system is one that is always available. A platform that remains both accessible and operational in worst-case scenarios. Allowing you to always send emergency alerts to ensure the safety of your employees and the public. To do this, your chosen system must be resilient to power and network outages, as well as complete internal system failures.

The most effective way to provide true availability for your emergency notification software is through a cloud deployment model. A cloud-based platform will:

  • Sit independently of your internal systems - it can’t be impacted by local system failures, and will remain unaffected if your in-house technologies are compromised by incidents like cyberattacks.
  • Provide countless failover scenarios - leading providers have a global network of data centres, each housing 1000s of servers. Whether an individual server fails, or an entire continent of data centres experiences a blackout, your system will simply failover and boot up on another server somewhere else.
  • Be supported by backup generators - so data centres remain operational even in widespread and long-lasting power outages.
  • Deliver cutting-edge security - multiple layers of protection including firewalls and encryption protect your systems and data. With DDoS protection and mitigation tools to protect against even the most aggressive denial of service attacks.

6.   Two-way communication - 5 mentions

In emergency and disaster situations, the inbound flow of information can be just as important as the mass alerts sent out. Making two-way messaging a key component in any effective emergency notification software solution.

The ability for employees and the public to respond to alerts using SMS or email channels enhances the flow of information, helping to improve response efforts. Staff and stakeholders can mark themselves safe, request additional assistance, or provide invaluable information to crisis response teams, helping you make smarter business decisions and save time.

7.   Reporting and analytics - 4 mentions

To assess the effectiveness of your emergency notification system and the communications sent, you need the ability to track key metrics and create detailed reports. Only through post-event analysis can unlock the insights needed to improve your platform usage and response efforts in future crisis events.

Half of the emergency notification system providers researched highlighted reporting and analytics as a key platform feature. When looking at reporting and analytics, you will want functionality that lets you:

  • Track all actions performed on the platform, including who performed them and when.
  • Access real-time information across all tracked data points - including message delivery status, two-way alert responses, call recordings, and more.
  • Perform a detailed analysis of each emergency broadcast by communication channel.
  • Create report templates that can be automatically generated.

8.   Integrations - 4 mentions

The ability to integrate your emergency notification system with existing tools and technology will offer extended capabilities. It will simplify day-to-day management and ensure the long-term success of your solution. It also helps fold your ENS into day-to-day use where employees are already engaging in a meaningful way on a regular basis.

Integrations come in many shapes and sizes, from pre-built integrations that allow simple synchronisation, to API connections that support advanced read and write capabilities. To get the most out of your emergency mass alerting platform, you want a solution offers both.

Ideally, the platform will integrate with your HR system or software like Active Directory. This ensures the contact details in your emergency notification platform are always up-to-date. Any details added, updated, or removed in your HR system can be automatically synced across.

The ability to integrate with other communication tools like Microsoft Teams, Slack, Skype, and Office 365 also open up new emergency alerting channels. Giving you yet another way to connect with employees and key stakeholders and increase reach.

9.   Geofencing - 4 mentions

Many of the crises that will afflict your organisation or institution will be concentrated on a specific location. Geofencing functionality in an emergency notification system lets you draw a virtual fence over a specific area on a map and send messages to all employees within the fenced area.

Geofencing can be used for targetting during natural disasters, bomb threats, hazardous spills, riots, protests, and power outages. It is a feature however that has its limitations and create friction in its implementation, and as a result, it’s not one we choose to offer in our Sentinel platform.

Adoption of the feature by the wider business is one of the biggest issues with geofencing. Given the option, most employees do not wish to have their devices and geographic location tracked by their employers. Even if the unpopular decision is made to track company devices, you can’t be certain the devices employees are assigned are on their person.

Only messaging based on geographic location can also exclude employees from receiving critical information. An end-user could be travelling back into a location with an active alert in place, but they will be completely unaware having been excluded from the initial group.

As an alternative to geofencing, Sentinel uses multiple group configurations to effectively update teams - based on their general location or role within an organisation. This means that users feel comfortable that they’re not being tracked, but always kept up to date in a crisis - no matter where they might be at any given time.

10.   Contact groups - 3 mentions

Contact groups are a key element in ensuring your emergency communications are received by the right people, at the right time, during dangerous situations.

The ability to create pre-defined groups in your emergency notification system gives you complete control in message targetting to select audiences. Protecting sensitive information and preventing misinformation. It also plays a critical role in accelerating the process of sending emergency mass alerts. Speed of communication is a benefit that cannot be underestimated when lives are at stake.

The following are key factors that will influence your need for contact groups:

  • The nature of the emergency - emergencies can impact an office, individual department, country, remote workers, or the entire organisation. Having a contact group for each lets you react accordingly with a targeted response.
  • Size and structure of the organisation - the importance and need for contact groups will grow hand in hand with the size and geographic distribution of your organisation. Increasing the frequency of emergency situations encountered that only impact a select audience.
  • The intended outcome of the alert - when an emergency unfolds, you will have different types of alerts that need to go to different groups. Alerts designed to inform and ensure safety. While another message goes to your crisis team and key stakeholders to trigger and coordinate response efforts.

11.   Templates for messaging - 3 mentions

When an emergency unfolds, the last thing you need is to be creating an alert from scratch. This is a high-pressure situation, where misinformation or a delay in crafting the message could have significant consequences.

This makes functionality to host, configure and send message templates a feature of significant importance. Emergency notification platform providers agree a series of pre-prepared message templates will minimise your risk. Creating the basis for quick, clear, accurate communications in response to emergency events.

Message templates bring significant benefits:

  • You can prepare templates for a nearly exhaustive list of scenarios, saving substantial time in sending emergency alerts.
  • They can be crafted and optimised for readability to improve the clarity of communication.
  • Each template can offer adjustment to key elements - time, location, resolution timeframe - so they can be customised accordingly.
  • Sign-off can be secured ahead of schedule, minimising the steps it takes to send communications in an emergency scenario.
  • Combined with contact groups, you can send targetted alerts that scale from 1 to 10,000 in a few quick clicks.

12.   Speed - 3 mentions

Speed is arguably one of the most important factors in emergency response, it can mean the difference between life and death.

It surprised us to only see three providers highlight speed as a key feature in emergency notification software. Where it was mentioned, those providers marked it out as their number one feature. A sentiment we can agree with.

Speed in an emergency notification system is not an abstract feature. It can be defined and achieved as a combination of the following platform functionality:

  • A well-structured front-end interface - you want a system minimising the steps and clicks taken to send an emergency notification. Scalability is also a must, sending a message to a group of 10 or 10,000 should take roughly the same amount of time. You also want an interface with a clean and clear design that provides ease of navigation.
  • The ability to pre-prepare emergency alerts - we’ve touched on this already, functionality that supports the combination of contact groups and message templates to create pre-prepared broadcasts will significantly improve the speed at which you can trigger communications.
  • Simultaneous multi-channel communication - the technology and platform interface should make it possible to send emergency alerts through multiple channels at the same time without delay.
  • Supporting infrastructure - you shouldn’t have to experience delays due to a carrier or technology bottleneck. You need a system capable of sending 10,000s of alerts that deliver real-time notifications to employees and the public, without sending delays.

13.   Enterprise security - 2 mentions

Considering the purpose of emergency mass notification systems and the sensitive data they contain, it’s surprising to see security rarely considered as a key feature.

Your platform will be home to highly sensitive information like emergency response plans and the personal details of all employees, stakeholders, partners, customers, and even members of the public. You need a solution that meets the following enterprise-level security protocols:

  • A cutting-edge firewall.
  • Two-factor authentication to protect from phishing, social engineering and brute-force password attacks.
  • Identity and access management tools to control who has access to where, and what they can do with that access.
  • 256 AES encryption of data at rest (as a minimum).
  • Compliance with GDPR protocols for any data collected or processed within the platform.

14.   Multi-language - 2 mentions

If you’re working within a global organisation, you want mass alerting software that minimises the instances in which language becomes a barrier to emergency communications.

Interestingly, this is not a feature commonly found in emergency notification systems. While all platforms will let you send emergency notifications in your native language, very few solutions provide the functionality to assist multi-language communications.

Our Sentinel Hotline tool is one of the few platforms supporting multi-language functionality. The system lets you create an automated telephone hotline to answer inbound calls and deliver incident updates in emergency situations. You simply type in your emergency update, the system then converts it from text to speech and seamlessly translates it into 20+ available languages.

15.   Teleconferencing - 1 mention

During emergency situations, your crisis team needs a secure communication space to connect, exchange information, coordinate response efforts and make key decisions. Teleconferencing provides an ideal solution, offering a space for instant real-time voice communication that participants can join from different locations, on a range of devices.

A leading emergency notification system will offer you functionality beyond simple mass alerting. This includes the ability to launch secure instant teleconferences to connect your crisis teams. Ideally, supporting functionality to:

  • Launch instant teleconferences in a few quick clicks.
  • Join teleconferences from a telephone landline, mobile device or VOIP.
  • Create pre-prepared contact groups, with a preferred communication channel.
  • Security to ensure control of the call can’t be passed to others.
  • Easily join teleconferences with a click, no long numbers or pins to remember.
  • Record teleconferences for post-crisis analysis and auditing.

Additional Features

There were a range of emergency notification platform features mentioned by providers that didn't make the to 15. This doesn't mean they they can't offer you significant benefits in enhancing you communication and improving your emergency response. So, here they are in no particular order:

  • Message customisation - the option to customise emergency alerts by communication channel.
  • Telephone hotline - the ability to create an automated telephone hotline to deliver information updates to inbound callers.
  • Central control console - an interface from which you can perform all actions and view key metrics.
  • Global coverage - the capability to send emergency alerts across geographic borders.
  • All in one solution - a system that offers all the features you need on one platform, so you don't need multiple separate solutions.
  • Non-emergency use - system flexibility for day-to-day use to make most the platform outside of emergency situations.
  • Surveys - functionality to create and send surverys to collect feedback from employees and the public.
  • Threat intelligence mapping - a real-time map of employee locations, overlayed with emergency events to ascertain threat levels.
  • Automated weather warnings - integration with a national weather service to trigger instant alerts for extreme weather occurences.

Research Sources

For reference, below are the articles and guides created by our competitors used to build this new comprehensive guide:

  • 5 Key features of an emergency notification system - Agility Recovery
  • 5 Key components of a good emergency notification system - Preparis
  • 10 Features that your emergency notification system needs to have - Alert Find
  • What to look for in an emergency notification system - Klaxon
  • The definitive guide to emergency notification systems - Alert Media
  • Emergency notification systems – The complete buyers guide - Pocketstop
  • 6 Critical emergency alert app features - Omnilert
  • Ten critical features of an emergency notification system - OnSolve

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