Many organizations either have or are considering investing in emergency notification systems. Anyone that has researched available vendors and products in this arena knows that the options available with these systems varies widely. What is shocking however is that many invest in such systems without having a clear understanding of what they are purchasing or even what it is that they really need. As such, let’s take a moment to consider what we should look for in such a system.
When considering an emergency notification system the first question that we must ask ourselves is what our intended audience is. An organization may utilize such a system to:
- Inform its employees and/or partners that an emergency exists
- Provide situational awareness of an emergency situation to leadership and external stakeholders
- Request that employees and stakeholders take a specific action such as reporting to an Emergency Operations Center or alternate working location
- Provide situational awareness to the public of an emergency situation
- Notify the public of life threatening emergency that requires immediate protective actions.
Identifying what our intended audience and goal is will help us determine what feature sets we should solicit as part of our procurement process. Some of these features will include the ability to confirm a recipient has received the message and/or has the ability to comply with a requested action, what methods such as telephone / email / text message / fax are available to distributing the message, what criteria such as event type or geographic area may be used to determine recipients of the message, how the database of recipients is maintained, options for interoperability with neighboring alert systems, the ability to integrate with other alert system platforms, and the ability to both activate and be triggered by the Emergency Alert System.
It is important to remember that we need our staff to be intimately familiar with a system that they will utilize during the most severe crisis and as such, if at all possible, we should select a system that will fill our needs during not only such a major crisis but also during day to day operations. This requires both technical planning in the procurement processes as well as operational planning considerations of how we do business.
In follow-up articles we will examine important feature sets to consider for systems to communicate internally within our organization, systems to communicate externally with the public, and finally considerations for integrating multiple notification systems into a comprehensive warning program that may include the Emergency Alert System and Social Media components.