Category: Operational messaging

Mass notification services for the NHS and beyond!

Implementing a mass notification service can be a daunting task, and getting buy in from front line staff can be the trickiest piece of the puzzle!

Improving the way that you communicate with your staff isn’t just a case of finding a communications solution that gives you what you need technically. You need to be able to make it work from the ground up and get buy in from everyone involved – otherwise, no matter how good the platform is, you won’t get the results that you need. How many times have you heard comments like these, or even thought them yourself?

As a service provider, it’s very easy for us to tell you what we do and how well we do it, but as a customer, it’s not always easy to distinguish fact from fiction and salesman’s patter from genuine customer feedback. So today, we’re going to let one of our customers do the talking and tell you all about their experience of implementing Alert Cascade for the first time.

Meet Giles de Burgh, Head of Resilience for Great Western Hospital, Swindon Clinical Commissioning Group and Wiltshire Health and Care …

We work in complex organisations in a disparate system. Communication is a big issue for us. Some of the organisations we work with work from a single site, some have over 20 sites spread over a whole county. We work with many different IT and telecommunications systems and work with a broad spectrum of staff with varied IT competencies. As Head of Resilience for multiple organisations (NHS Acute, Community and Commissioning organisations), these issues create problems with communication and co-ordination that have at times seemed insurmountable. They are always at the top of the debrief list of problems.

Initially, we were looking at Alert Cascade for a direct replacement for the radio paging system we used to alert our on call teams. What we have found is that Alert Cascade provides a service that not only replaces our old radio paging system but also surpasses it in terms of functionality, usability and accessibility in every way. We have moved quickly at looking at Alert Cascade for our on call team to rolling this out across much larger parts of the organisations.

We have been implementing Alert Cascade over the last several weeks and there is a genuine buzz developing as a result. It is so flexible in the way you can set it up by team, location, role, training that we can have bespoke but linked systems for different parts of our organisation. Want to know if staff can make it to their shift in heavy snow? Want to know if staff can get to another base to cover a shift? Want to send a message to all on call staff currently on shift to report to the Control Room or dial into a teleconference? Simply want to tell people to stop using their personal email addresses during an incident and to use the incident email address single point of contact? This can all be achieved quickly and effectively.

It is a testament to the simple layout of Alert Cascade that through the training briefings we have been running over the last several weeks that people simply get it. Our Team Leaders are genuinely excited about being able to communicate easily with their teams to fill a vacant shift rather than spend hours calling around individuals, leaving messages on answer phones and then missing the call when someone calls back because they are on the phone to another member of staff. One of our team explained this process can sometimes take hours. With Alert Cascade, they will be able to send it out to the whole team and monitor the response. This aspect alone will save our teams time and money and enable them to spend more time focusing on patient care.

On top of all this, the team at Alert Cascade are excellent. They spend time developing a relationship with you, they listen to the problems you are trying to solve and often come back with pragmatic solutions or else explain very nicely that Alert Cascade already does that.

Myself and my teams are looking forward to working with Alert Cascade over the coming years. I have no doubt that communication will not be top of the debrief report next time we have an incident.

Five myths about using SMS for emergency notification

DESPITE THE RISE OF APP BASED MESSAGING, OLD SCHOOL SMS TEXTS STILL PROVIDE VALUABLE BENEFITS AS PART OF YOUR EMERGENCY MASS NOTIFICATION SERVICE KIT BAG.

•  The number of monthly texts sent has increased by more than 7,700% over the last decade

•  4.2 billion+ people text worldwide

•  Over 18.7 billion SMS texts are sent and received every day (not including app to app)

•  More than 98% of text messages from brands or businesses are read

•  90% of SMS text messages are read within three minutes

•  Approximately 95% of the UK adult population owns a personal mobile phone

•  99.6% of the UK has 2g coverage (sufficient to allow receipt of an SMS text message)

SO, WHY WOULDN’T YOU USE SMS TEXTS AS PART OF YOUR EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION SYSTEM?

It’s a good question … and there isn’t really a good answer. Alert Cascade has worked with customers to provide emergency and business continuity communications for almost two decades; technology has continued to evolve during that time, so where it may once have been the case that SMS text messaging wasn’t resilient enough for an emergency notification system, that no longer rings true.

MYTH NUMBER 1 – SMS MESSAGES HAVE A POOR DELIVERY RATE

There’s a grain of truth in this one. But as ever, the headline doesn’t tell the full story. Delivery problems are usually the result of poor telecoms routing, not the result of sending an SMS text. Some SMS providers opt to keep their prices low by using “grey routing” – this typically means that your messages are routed via another country, in order to avoid paying a fee to one of the telephony networks involved.

It’s not uncommon for grey routed SMS traffic to be bounced through a series of countries in order to avoid detection by the network operators. For you as the end user, this results in hold ups and lost messages. Even worse, because the routing is so convoluted, delivery and read receipts become almost useless as you may them receive hours, days or weeks late … or not receive them at all. So, you may never even know if your message has been received; far from ideal if you’re using SMS as part of your emergency mass notification service.

There’s an easy fix for this though – don’t use grey routing! As an OfCom registered telecoms company, Alert Cascade guarantees to only use white (i.e. legitimate) telecoms routing. We have direct links with the major UK networks, ensuring your messages are only ever sent through reliable, tier one connections. This guarantee is what allows us to give our customers a minimum uptime of 99.999%, and is why our customers are so confident in using our resilient SMS text messaging as part of their business continuity plan.

MYTH NUMBER 2 – WHEN SMS MESSAGES AREN’T DELIVERED, IT’S TRICKY TO FIND OUT WHY

As we established with Myth number 1, the problem here really isn’t SMS related – it’s cheap routing related. If you are using grey routing, there is no guarantee that you will get any kind of receipt back from the carriers involved, and even if you do get a receipt, there’s no guarantee that you will receive it in time for it to be of any use to you. What this means in layman’s terms is that you may send your business continuity message out to 100 staff via SMS text, but if you’re using grey routing, you may never know whether the message was delivered.

Alert Cascade SMS is guaranteed to run through white routes. This means that not only are we confident in delivering your message, we’re confident in telling you exactly what happened to your message and when. Our telco status also makes us different from our competitors – it means that when we tell you a message is delivered, we know it has been delivered to the individual handset, not just that the network has accepted delivery.

Message delivery statuses are available to all customers, all of the time, via our live reports dashboard. You can quickly and easily see whether messages are delivered (to the handset), pending (accepted by the network but not yet reached the handset), invalid (the phone number provided was invalid) or expired (if you set an expiration time and your SMS hasn’t been delivered by the end of that time, the message content will expire). Occasionally, we do still see the dreaded undelivered status, where the number provided is valid, the network has accepted the message, it’s been sat at pending for 48 hours but it hasn’t reached the handset. With our 99.999% SLA, the only time this happens is if the handset has been switched off or out of signal range for the entire 48 hour period.

So, if you use white routing, your message will be delivered. And if it hasn’t been, you will know whether that’s because the number is invalid, the message content has expired or the handset has been out of range for longer than 48 hours. Either way, it’s definitely not tricky to find this information!

MYTH NUMBER 3 – SMS TEXT MESSAGES ARE TOO SHORT TO BE USEFUL

The first SMS text message was sent on 3rd December 1992 (a 22 year old test engineer send “Merry Christmas” via the Vodafone network), and yes, at that time there were character limitations. And there still are character limitations today, depending on the handset you’re contacting and the region or network you’re working in. But let’s be realistic here – during a business continuity disruption, do you really need to send a message that’s longer than 1000 characters?

Alert Cascade SMS supports both the GSM (Global System for Mobile communications) and Unicode character sets; GSM was developed for use in Europe and includes the letters A to Z, numbers 0 to 9 and symbols such as @, ?, !, & etc, whereas Unicode supports more complex characters such as the Cyrillic alphabet and the Chinese, Arabic and Thai languages. In January 2017, there was even a request to add Klingon to the Unicode Registry, so whatever language you use, you can send your message by SMS.

MYTH NUMBER 4 – SMS TEXT MESSAGING CAN BE EXPENSIVE

Again, there is a grain of truth to this one, depending on your provider. If you’re being billed in arrears for your usage, you’re probably not getting the benefit of any bulk purchase discounts, whereas if you’ve pre-purchased an SMS bundle, your cost per message will be lower – a quick search of the internet will show you that if you buy a large enough bundle, you will pay around 3p per SMS text. That’s still not necessarily a comfortable position to be in though. When you’re dealing with an incident, the last thing you want to have to think about is “Do I have enough credit to send this message?”, or even worse, “What happens if I run out of credits part way through this incident?”.

Depending on the incident you’re dealing with, you may need to send one message to a select handful of people, or you may need to send numerous messages and updates to your entire staff headcount plus members of the public. From our point of view, the main point of a mass communication system is that you use it to communicate, and we don’t want to put hurdles in the way of you doing this. So, our business continuity pricing plans are all inclusive.

You pay your annual subscription fee for the platform, and the costs of your business continuity messaging are included within your subscription fee. This makes sense for you operationally as a customer (because now you’re free the use the platform whenever you need to without worrying about your budget), and it makes sense for us operationally as a provider (because now we’re free to focus our resources on support and development rather than monitoring usage and billing cycles).

MYTH NUMBER 5 – SMS TEXT MESSAGES ARE TEXT ONLY

Visual elements such as images, symbols, colours, fonts, tables etc are all great ways of conveying complex information to a diverse audience, and the phrase “SMS text” leads people to the natural conclusion that SMS messaging is all about the text content. Modern text messaging however, doesn’t have to rely just on traditional text content.

Our SMS for business continuity packages include the ability to add links to relevant documents, to create trackable web links, and to create surveys and forms to capture relevant data about the wellbeing of your contacts. Feature rich SMS enhances traditional text based content by helping you convey information in graphical format for a diverse contact list, provide additional instruction or detail via an infographic and consistently brand your messages so that contacts know it is a genuine alert.

Once you’ve got your audience’s attention by using an SMS that will be received by 95% of the population, read by 98% of the people who receive it, and opened by 90% of those people within three minutes, you can link out to somewhere more visually appealing and provide more detailed information.

So, you can benefit from the high open rates of SMS text messages and combine it with the complex visual elements usually found in emails by adding links and forms to your message … the best of both worlds.

SO I’LL ASK YOU AGAIN – WHY WOULDN’T YOU USE SMS TEXTS AS PART OF YOUR EMERGENCY NOTIFICATION SYSTEM?

What we’ve got here, is failure to communicate …

Why it’s a bad idea to rely on email only communications …

FOR THE LAST 15 YEARS, WE’VE SPECIALISED IN PROVIDING OUR CUSTOMERS WITH RESILIENT, UK BASED MASS NOTIFICATION SERVICES. HERE’S WHY OUR PLATFORM PROVIDES MULTIPLE COMMUNICATION PATHS AS STANDARD …

REDUNDANCY AND RESILIENCE

We all have our preferred method of communicating, and our platform lets you cater to those preferences by choosing what contact data you store, which channels you want to use for your message, who you want to communicate with and when. But all that being said, it’s still important to consider how you’d cope if your preferred communication channel wasn’t available.

For example, as an organisation, how would you cope if your email service was down due to somebody accidentally sending a test email to 850k users? How would your staff keep in touch with each other? How would the outside world reach you? How would you let people know that your IT team are already dealing with this and they don’t need another 600 support tickets being opened about the same issue?

MULTI MODAL COMMUNICATION

Problem: email is down and your IT team need to concentrating on fixing the issue, not fielding support tickets
Solution: send a voice call to office phones and a text to field staff mobile phones letting everyone know what’s happening, and follow it up with regular updates using the same channels

Problem: you’re having internet issues and your office phones run on Voice over Internet Protocol
Solution: text your staff to keep them in the loop and re-direct your customer facing phone lines to your Audio Noticeboard

Problem: there’s been a major incident and MTPAS has been invoked meaning your voice calls aren’t going through to mobiles and you need to know your people are safe
Solution: send voice calls to landlines (even if GTPS has been invoked as well, inbound landline calls will still go through), emails to any addresses you have and SMS text messages to mobiles, all with polling enabled so your contacts can let you know they’re safe and well

Within the context of mass communications, multi modal simply means the ability to communicate on more than one channel or mode. That’s why we’ve specifically designed Alert Cascade 4.0 with the ability for you to add unlimited contact fields, and to set them up in the way that works best for you.

Whether you call them cell phones, mobiles, landlines, desk phones, e-mail addresses or emails, you can choose exactly what data you want to store and how. Then, when it’s time to send your message, you can pick and chose the communication channels to use, based on the situation you’re dealing with.

Mass notification service - choose your own contact fields for more effective business continuity messaging

Closing the communication loop by capturing responses

FOR THE LAST 15 YEARS, WE’VE SPECIALISED IN PROVIDING OUR CUSTOMERS WITH RESILIENT, UK BASED MASS COMMUNICATION SERVICES. WHAT MAKES US DIFFERENT?

Answering machines and mass communication services

Using a single source of truth to improve your mass communications

Introducing … Alert Cascade version 4.0