An emergency can strike your organization at any time. It comes without any warning, and if you’re not prepared well enough, it can leave a trail of damages. Every organization is susceptible to a variety of emergencies ranging from natural calamities like earthquakes or floods to fires.
They can even come in the form of cyberattacks that can not only disrupt business operations but also cause millions of dollars in damage. For example, the NotPetya Ransomware attack in 2017 caused $870 million of damage to the pharmaceutical giant, Merck.
To prevent any major damage to your organization and to keep your employees/stakeholders away from harm, you should have an emergency strategy in place. One of the most essential components of any emergency action plan is an emergency notification system. This is critical for your internal communications during emergencies.
So, let’s try to understand what exactly is an emergency notification system, and why is it essential to combat any emergency effectively.
Table of Contents
- What is an Emergency Notification System?
- Emergency Notification Systems: A Brief History
- Modern Emergency Notification Systems
- Important Features of an Emergency Notification System
- Who Needs an Emergency Notification System?
- Do I Need an Emergency Notification System?
- Assess Your Organization
- Assess Your Current Capabilities
- Threat Assessment
- Organizational Culture Assessment
- How Can RedFlag Help Your Organization
1. What is an Emergency Notification System?
Emergencies are critical situations where time is of the essence. The longer it takes to respond to an emergency, the more damage it can cause. That’s why an emergency notification system is designed keeping in mind the complexity of emergencies. So what is an emergency notification system?
An emergency notification system is a software solution to send emergency alerts to all stakeholders. It enables you to send notifications across a variety of devices and communication channels to any audience size, large or small.
They’re simple to use, and with them, you can send out alerts to your stakeholders instantly. It’s crucial to send out emergency alerts at the earliest to keep them out of harm’s way.
Irrespective of the size of your organization, having an emergency notification system is the first step in making your organization a safer place. They’re designed keeping in mind multiple channels that people regularly use. These include emails, SMS, voice calls, and more. Sending out alerts on numerous channels improves the chances of your stakeholders receiving and taking note of the alerts.
To best understand why emergency notification systems are designed this way, let’s try to take a brief look into their history and evolution.
2. Emergency Notification Systems: A Brief History
Modern-day emergency notification systems leverage technology. However, they’ve been around for a long time in different forms as people used various methods in the past to notify others about dangers.
These systems were also used to inform people about danger in advance. This gave people enough time to prepare for an emergency to protect their near and dear ones.
However, the systems have evolved over centuries. Before there was any technology, there were town criers and men on horses who used to do rounds in towns to let people know about the upcoming emergency (ex: Paul Revere's famous ride). While this method doesn’t seem reliable in today's modern age, it was pretty effective back then. Eventually loudspeakers and sirens were employed to notify people about an emergency across a vast area.
Later on the radio was invented and this became the prime source of alerting people during any emergency which continued to be used until the Cold War era. This was when the US government moved on to Control of Electromagnetic Radiation (CONELRAD) for emergency notifications. This system could broadcast information related to civil defense through television and radio. It was also a state-of-the-art system that ensured that Soviet bombers couldn’t pick up the signals sent out by the system.
As time passed by, a new alert system came into being in 1963 which was called the Emergency Broadcast System, and its prime purpose was to give the U.S. President a way to communicate with the citizens during a national crisis. It connected all mass information systems such as TV networks and radio stations and rolled them into a single network which could be used to communicate with the people.
As a result, it could reach a vast audience as compared to the older systems. While it wasn’t (thankfully) ever used for alerts related to nuclear war, it did get utilized for broadcasting other emergencies such as severe weather.
In 1997, this system was replaced with a new one named Emergency Alert System (EAS). In this system, radio and television were used as the major communication channels. It also included cable, satellite TVs, and landline phones. In 2013, wireless devices such as mobile phones were added to this system. This way, the EAS can send out instant alerts and information to the people.
3. Modern Emergency Notification Systems
While governments in the past were the only organizations to have emergency notification systems, businesses soon realized the benefits of having one in place. They saw this as necessary to ensure the safety of their employees and other stakeholders. That’s why nearly 60% of organizations use some or the other forms of emergency notification systems to communicate with their employees.
Additionally, there has been significant growth in the number of employees working remotely in the US. In 2015, there were 3.9 million remote employees as compared to 4.7 million in 2017. This makes it essential for the organization to have a system that sends out alerts to its employees across the country.
Organizations saw it as vital in improving their emergency notification systems to ensure that they’re able to reach all their employees across a wide range of devices. As the popularity of smartphones soared, it became necessary for organizations to be able to reach their employees on these devices as well. This opened up the need to come up with a multi-channel emergency notification system that could send alerts to the employees irrespective of their communication preference.
Thus came the modern emergency notification systems that could be used to send out alerts to employees instantly with ease.
Some organizations make the claim they use modern technology like emails for sending out alerts to their employees/stakeholders. However, email open rates are typically low, and many of your employees/stakeholders may not even check them frequently. As a result, those organizations are finding emails aren’t very reliable when it comes to sending emergency alerts.
Instead, warnings should be sent via multi-channel methods such as text messages or voice calls, which are used more regularly than emails. Additionally, millennials actually prefer text messages over emails as they believe emails are becoming obsolete.
As a result, the modern-day emergency notification system is built such that it can send alerts across all these major channels. So, let’s look at some of the features that you should consider while looking for an emergency notification software solution for your organization.
4. Important Features of an Emergency Notification System
Whenever you’re planning to incorporate an emergency notification software solution into your organization, you should look at each of its key features. Based on these features, you can determine if the system is right for you. Let’s take a look at some of the most important features that you should consider while purchasing an emergency notification system.
Speed is perhaps the most critical parameter that you need to consider when selecting an emergency notification system for your brand. The primary reason for this being that an emergency requires you to take instant action. Time is of the essence when it comes to emergency situations, and if your emergency notification system can’t alert your stakeholders instantly, you may not be able to keep them away from harm’s way.
The system needs to be such that it can send out a large amount of alerts instantaneously. The technology should be such that there must be no bottleneck due to a large number of notifications being sent out. It must also be capable of sending out the alerts on multiple channels in this short time. This ensures that your audience can receive your alerts within seconds.
It’s not just the speed of the technology that matters. The design of the emergency notification system is essential too. Its design must make it easy for you to send out the alert. The number of steps involved must be minimum so that there’s no delay in alerting your stakeholders. The higher the number of steps or clicks, the longer the alert will take to be sent out.
It helps to check out if the emergency notification system can be used on multiple platforms, such as desktops and mobile phones. Remember, ease of access to the software solution is of the utmost importance. The more the number of places from where you can access the tool, the quicker your response will be.
4.2 Multi-Channel Delivery
Yet another essential factor to consider while choosing an emergency notification system is that of multiple-channel delivery. You should realize that not 100% of your recipients will have a single dedicated communication preference but will more than likely have a variety of different preferences.
That’s why your system must be capable of sending emergency alerts to as many channels as possible instantly. If it doesn't, you might miss out on a big part of your stakeholders if you don’t have a system that can send alerts through multiple channels.
While lots of organizations rely on emails to send alerts, they probably aren’t read instantly. However, it may be found that a lot of your employees respond more reliably to text messages and voice calls. This may be due to the fact they may even check these alerts immediately as they will most likely have their phones with them. A system that can send alerts through all these channels at once can be instrumental in getting the message across to a majority of your stakeholders.
4.3 Message Customization
While your emergency notification system should be capable of sending alerts through different channels, it should also be able to customize the messages for each of these channels. This is because each channel may have different types of media that you can add to it. For instance, emails allow you to add attachments. At the same time, emails can be lengthy. This isn’t the case with text messages that need to be short and to the point.
Thus, your emergency notification should ideally have the capability to customize the messages for each channel. It would also help if the system has some pre-designed message templates that you can send through a single click. Such templates would also make it easier for you to customize the message and send it out with ease.
4.4 Audience Targeting
If your company has a vast workforce that’s distributed across different locations or if your employees travel regularly, your software solution must have audience targeting capabilities. This can help you target a specific group from your audience to which you need to send the alert to.
Through this, you can ensure that only those stakeholders who need to be alerted are informed about the emergency while the rest remain unaffected. It also ensures that unnecessary messages aren’t sent through the system. Sending irrelevant alerts to your stakeholders regularly can challenge your purpose of alerting them. This is because they’ll start considering every other alert to be an irrelevant one and may end up ignoring them.
For maximum effectiveness of your system, you should use it only when it’s necessary and target those who’ll be affected by the emergency.
4.5 Message Templates
As mentioned above, it helps to have an emergency notification system that has the ability to preload message templates. This can simplify the process of creating the messages during an emergency, as you just need to send the alert or change a few things before sending it. Emergencies can be stressful situations where you may not be able to draft the message with ease. In such a situation, pre-built messages can be of great help.
While some emergency notification software provide don't have templates you can already use, the best providers do. In the former, you might have to create templates without knowing what best practices to incorporate which could hinder their effectiveness especially in the event of an emergency. In the latter, an experienced solutions provider will have pre-built templates you can use that incorporate best practices ensuring you send the most effective messages to your recipients. You should thus carefully analyze whether an emergency notification system provider has templates you can use from day one.
4.6 Mobile Apps
Smartphones are usually at an arm’s reach for anyone. This usually isn’t the case with laptops or desktops. Thus, an emergency notification system should also have apps for smartphones so that you can quickly send the alerts even when you’re away from your computers.
Additionally, the apps must be available on both Android and iOS operating systems to ensure that they can be downloaded on most phones in the market. Thankfully, most modern emergency notification systems are specifically designed for mobile devices. This makes it easy for you to send out alerts whenever there’s a need.
4.7 Ease of Use
When it comes to an emergency, time is of the essence when it comes to sending your alerts. Each second counts, and a software solution must be designed such that it can minimize the time required to send out the notifications. The platform should be such that it doesn’t require much training and has very few steps involved in sending the emergency message.
Additionally, the platform should also be easy to implement in your organization. If you have a self-registration portal or a possibility to import all the contacts into the system, you’ll be able to get started with it quickly. It’d also be helpful if the mass notification system can facilitate the import of data from other databases and business systems such as Azure AD.
A great idea is to see a demo of the tool in advance so that you can be sure that the promises that your vendor makes are genuine. It also helps to have a training session once you’ve incorporated your emergency system so that all your users are well-aware of how they can send alerts.
Most crises may not hit your entire business. Instead, they’ll be concentrated on a particular region. Emergencies can range from power outages to natural disasters, and each of these can hit different parts of the country. Hence, your emergency notification solution should be able to alert all the stakeholders in that particular region.
Through geotargeting, you’ll be able to send alerts to only those stakeholders who are likely to be affected by the crisis. This ensures that all those who aren’t going to be affected aren’t disturbed with the alert. As a result, you’ll be able to avoid creating excess panic and manage the situation better without any distractions.
4.9 Two-Way Messaging
While many situations might just need one-way messaging, there are loads of other emergencies where you might need interaction from both ends. Thus, you must check if your emergency notification system allows two-way messaging. It’s always beneficial to allow your employees to respond to the alerts so that you can coordinate the operations in a better manner.
They might be able to provide crucial information to first responders and save valuable time that may, otherwise, be lost. It also helps if your employees/stakeholders can respond to the messages by adding various media like images and videos through attachments.
Hence, you should try to incorporate an emergency notification system that offers two-way messaging capability through SMS and email. Not only does this help in better transfer of information, but it also gives you on the ground intel to help you make smart business decisions.
Integrations can help in expanding the capability of your emergency notification software solution. Not only that, it makes it simpler to integrate your system into your current emergency plan as well. That’s why it’s essential that your emergency notification system can easily integrate with your existing systems.
Through integrations, you can also ensure that you can send and receive alerts with ease. It also helps if your solution can be integrated with existing communication systems, such as email platforms. This can help you send out alerts without having to navigate to the app on desktops or mobiles specially.
Additionally, if you have a conference bridge solution, the emergency notification system should be able to integrate with it. This can help you gather all the decision-makers for a conference to address the situation at hand.
4.11 Reporting and Analytics
When you’re looking for an emergency notification system, do check if it has detailed analytics and reporting features. Your system must be able to prove if it’s doing its work properly and reaching your intended audience. It must also be able to tell you if your audience has received your alerts and read them through features like Acknowledgement. Such reporting and analytics can help you improve the safety of your employees.
Some of the basic metrics that your emergency notification system must be able to report include:
- Message delivery status and statistics
- Delivery performance of each channel
- Real-time replies from your recipients
Such analytics need to be available in real-time so that you can remain on top of everything during an emergency.
Your emergency notification system must be able to store the contact details of all your recipients and save all messages sent to them. This data is meant only for an internal audience so security is paramount. Hence, you need to look into what security features are available to ensure only authorized personnel gain access to this data so it stays safe.
The system should provide enterprise-level security protocols such as two factor authentication. All the information should be stored and transmitted in an encrypted form so that it remains safe. The vendor should also maintain industry level security to protect your data.
4.13 Customer Support
Once you purchase an emergency notification system, there may be times when you need some assistance with it. In such a situation, it helps to have customer support from your vendor. Customer support must extend even beyond your purchase, and ideally, it should be available to you 24/7. Whenever you encounter a rare roadblock, you can reach out to them to get an immediate resolution.
That’s why you must talk with your prospective vendor to figure out their customer service offerings. Try to understand the following aspects of their customer support program:
- Who will offer the support?
- How will support be delivered?
- Through which modes will you be able to reach out to customer support?
- When will the customer support be available?
- Will dedicated resources will be available?
Ideally, the customer service staff should be available round-the-clock and be able to address your concerns quickly. It helps if they offer multiple channels to get in touch with them as well. Live chat and toll-free contact numbers are added advantages.
When choosing an emergency notification system for your organization, you need to decide the mode of deployment as well. There are two modes of deployment that most vendors offer: on-premise and cloud.
On-premise solutions are ones where the software solution is installed in a physical location that’s managed by you. If you go for on-premise solutions, and your IT infrastructure fails during emergencies, then the emergency notification system won’t be able to send out emergency alerts. This is usually the riskiest option with many pitfalls.
In a cloud-hosted solution, the software is installed in an off-site location that’s distributed across multiple data centers. As a result, server maintenance is carried out by dedicated professionals who are managing the data centers meaning emergency notification system will constantly remain online. This is because cloud servers are spread across multiple data centers. Even if one server or a complete data center goes down, other servers and data centers can pick up their load. This ensures 99.99% uptime of the service.
Additionally, cloud-hosted solutions turn out to be cost-effective as the cloud host handles the maintenance operations. To access cloud-hosted emergency notification systems, all you need is internet access.
The last thing you’d want during an emergency is to let language barriers come in the way of conveying information to your employees. In such a situation, it helps to have a mass notification system that supports multiple languages. If it can send and receive alerts in various languages, you’ll be able to reach out to all your employees without any language barrier issues.
If your emergency notification system supports voice calls, it should also be able to recognize dialects. This will ensure that the voice calls pronounce the alerts correctly and get your message across without any confusion. Additionally, it helps if the software allows the users to select their choice of languages making navigation easier for them.
4.16 Non-Emergency Use
While emergency notification systems are primarily used to send alerts to your recipients, it can also be useful when there is no emergency. The system should be capable of sending messages to staff to improve coordination. If it permits two-way communication, it can be used for communication regularly as well.
You should also be able to send out regular maintenance and IT notifications using the system. A survey or polling feature would be an added bonus as it can expedite the decision-making process in your organization too.
However, if you do decide to use the emergency notification system for non-emergency situations, do ensure that you focus on its prime purpose. Don’t rely on it excessively for your regular communication.
Now that we’ve covered all the major features that you should look for in an emergency notification system, let’s take a look at who needs it.
5. Who Needs an Emergency Notification System?
Emergencies can strike your organization at any moment, and it’s always helpful to be prepared to deal with them. That’s why, an emergency notification system needs to be a part of every organization, large and small. It’s an integral tool to ensure the smooth operation of your business. However, if your organization has multiple branches, remote workers, or involves frequent travel for your employees, such a system should be a critical component for your organization.
All sorts of industries can use emergency notification systems. These include:
- Commercial Real Estate
- Financial Services
- Senior living facilities
- Any other organization where a unified communication platform is needed.
An emergency notification system can find its application in almost all organizations. However, for the system to work, you must have a solid emergency communication plan in place. This plan must include every stakeholder possible to ensure that you can reach everyone on time during emergencies. A great emergency notification system will help any organization utilize its communication capabilities to the fullest and help them reach their audience in the shortest time possible.
Let’s now try to understand if you need an emergency notification system.
6. Do I Need an Emergency Notification System?
Just like all other software solutions, you need to carefully decide if you need an emergency notification system. While it always helps to have it, you should assess your organization and the system thoroughly to figure out if you need it.
You should consider a whole range of factors, from pricing to the features and reviews on major software directories like Capterra and G2. Choose to go ahead with the purchase only once you’ve weighed all the factors. Here are some comprehensive assessments that you can carry out to figure out if you need an emergency notification software solution.
6.1 Assess Your Organization
The first step is to analyze your organization to find out its requirements. Every organization is unique and will have unique needs. You should ask specific questions to figure out the type of solution that you might need such as:
- How many stakeholders/employees does my organization have?
- How many branches do we have?
- Does my organization have any remote employees/stakeholders?
- What is the current state of internal communication in my organization?
- Is the current system able to reach all my recipients?
- Do my employees need to travel regularly?
- Which internal systems require integration?
- Can a cloud-based emergency notification system help my organization?
- What processes can the solution simplify?
6.2 Assess Your Current Capabilities
To figure out if you need an emergency notification system, you need to first assess the current state of affairs in your organization. For this, you need to answer the following questions:
- Are we currently using an emergency notification system?
- If so, does it meet our expectations
- Does the system have mobile apps for users?
- How many channels does your current system send alerts to?
- How long does it take to send a message?
- Does the current system provide any analytical data?
- Can the system send alerts to various segments of your stakeholders/employees?
- Does the system permit one-way or two-way communication?
- How many languages does the system permit?
- Can the system be used for non-emergency purposes?
- Will the organization’s current internal communication system remain online at all times?
6.3 Threat Assessment
The location of your organization and stakeholders/employees determines the emergencies that they might face. Additionally, the nature of your work can pose a major threat to your organization and stakeholders. It’s important to know the possible crisis that can strike your organization when you’re looking for an emergency notification system. Here are some questions that you need to ask yourself:
- Where is my organization located?
- Where are my employees/stakeholders located?
- Which environmental hazards are common in the location(s) of my organization?
- Which industrial or internal hazards does my organization face?
- Is my organization’s IT infrastructure strong enough to fend off cyberattacks?
- Does my organization have an emergency communication plan in place?
- Is the organization’s current internal communication system enough to communicate effectively?
6.4 Organizational Culture Assessment
An emergency notification system is a communication system. Before zeroing in on the perfect one for your organization, you need to figure out the internal communication culture in your organization since each system is suited for different communication cultures. To find out which is the right system for you, answer the following questions:
- How do my stakeholders/employees currently communicate?
- Which channels do my stakeholders/employees prefer to use for communication?
- How well have your stakeholders/employees communicated during previous emergencies, if any?
- How much training would be necessary to train your employees to use the new emergency notification system?
Based on the answers to the above questions, you can zero in on the perfect emergency notification system for your organization. Here’s how RedFlag can be that solution.
7. How Can RedFlag Help Your Organization?
RedFlag is a cloud-based emergency notification system that can help you send alerts in seconds during emergencies. It comes with pre-built templates that you can customize to send emergency communications.
With RedFlag, you can send alerts through emails, voice calls, text messages, social media, or any other endpoint. This ensures that your recipients will be able to receive them. You can even find out if they’ve read it through an acknowledgment option for which your recipients just need to tap a link.
Additionally, RedFlag has Microsoft Outlook integration allowing you to easily easily convert it into a multi-channel communication system. The platform also integrates with your conference bridge solution to help you quickly gather your decision-makers for a meeting.
RedFlag also provides multi-language support. You can send and receive alerts in English, Spanish, French, and Portuguese. The smart interface of the platform automatically adapts to the language in which you’re composing your message. It also recognizes dialects to ensure that the voice message sent across is clear and doesn’t cause any confusion.
To make things simple, RedFlag has an Android and iOS app for users to easily and quickly send messages on the fly. RedFlag also makes registration process for recipients allowing for self-registration, upload via Excel or CVS, or integration with a third party system. The intuitive interface ensures that no or minimal training is required to implement the solution in your organization.
RedFlag also facilitates two-way communication to improve the coordination in your organization. It also provides detailed feedback in real-time from message recipients. It gives you complete control over all the notification related activities by providing online reports to help you track it all.
Hosted on Azure Cloud, RedFlag is backed by world-class security. And if that’s not enough, you can create an additional security layer through two factor authentication.
RedFlag is trusted by a variety of organizations ranging from real estate firms like JLL to engineering giants like Fluor, and nonprofits such as American Heart Association.
If you think RedFlag is a valuable addition towards improving the safety of your stakeholders/employees request your demo of our emergency notification system today.