What to look for in an Emergency Notification System

All about Emergency Notification Systems – part 2

Emergency notification services all have the same basic ability to send outbound alerts across multiple channels and receive responses. However, there are key features that can greatly impact the benefits you get from emergency notification software.
Global multi channel communication - concept

1) Ease of use

When it comes to an emergency, every second counts – unless you are really unlucky, it’s 
unlikely that you will be using your ENS every day (or even every week). This means that 
your chosen software solution needs to be designed with that in mind; users will be dealing 
with already stressful situations, and may not have had much practice at sending alerts. Your 
emergency notification service should require minimal training, be easy to access from a 
variety of devices, and should make it easy to send an emergency message with as few steps 
as possible. 

Ease of use doesn’t just apply to sending messages; effective message sending relies on 

having up to date contact data for your teams, so it’s vital that you’re able to maintain your 
data without investing hours of administrative time. 

2) Speed

Speed is one of the most critical considerations when selecting an emergency alert system; by 
definition, an emergency requires immediate action and your communications are a key part 
of that action. The more quickly you share information with your stakeholders, the more 
quickly they can take action, making speed a crucial element in keeping people safe, reducing 
downtime, and minimising the effect of a business disruption. 
When you’re thinking about speed, there are a couple of different aspects to consider: 
  1. Speed of activation – ho quickly can a user trigger an emergency alert?
  2. Speed of delivery – is there any pacing or throttling applied when you are sending alerts to thousands of recipients across multiple channels?
  3. Speed of reporting – how long will it take for you to start seeing delivery receipts and responses to your alert?

3) Message customisation

When it comes to your emergency notification system, it’s vital that your messages are tailored to each channel you use. Whether it’s SMS, email, or voice calls, your system should allow you to include links to files or external URLs effortlessly. For voice calls, it should provide the flexibility to customise the message content when reaching an answering service, ensuring sensitive information isn’t left on a shared landline voicemail service.

An added bonus is having access to pre-built templates in your chosen software. This means you can hit the ground running from day one, making only a few tweaks to personalise the messages for your organisation. Having the ability to create unlimited templates covering all your use cases simplifies the message sending process during critical incidents. You can simply send the alert or add incident-specific information to the template’s content, eliminating the need to draft messages from scratch.

4) Two way communication

Sometimes, all you need is a simple one-way alert to share information with your recipients. But there are times when you require true two-way communication, allowing you to gather responses and inform your next steps. With a high-quality mass notification system, you can collect and collate responses across all communication channels effortlessly. This valuable information can then be used to send follow-up messages and provide further instructions to those in need.

By setting up multiple-choice response options, you ensure that you receive actionable and reportable information, rather than a chaotic chatroom environment where you can get responses, but have no way to collate or report on them. The ability to define your response options on a per message basis allows you to pivot your incident response based on the actual incident you are dealing with, rather than having generic responses that almost give you what you need.

5) Targeting the right people

In our hyperconnected world, your stakeholders receive a constant flow of communications across a vast array of channels, 24/7/365 –  bombarding recipients with unnecessary emergency alerts will only lead to them ignoring important messages.

That’s why it’s crucial to target your alerts accurately, ensuring that each one reaches the intended audience. Your organisation may have dispersed teams, using diverse IT infrastructure, with varying skills and attributes. Information may be stored in HR systems, a business continuity plan, or in other internal systems. You need to be able to easily import and use data from multiple sources in order to target your messages based on multiple criteria i.e. staff based in X office with Y skillset. The more accurately you can target your emergency alerts, the more effective they will be.

6) Reporting and Analytics

Detailed reports and analytics are the key differentiators when it comes to having an emergency notification system that simply checks a box, and one that you can truly utilise to make well-informed decisions as part of your incident management plan. At a minimum, you need the ability to generate real-time reports on crucial aspects:

  • Delivery status of messages for each individual across all communication channels.
  • Response status and chosen options of individuals.
  • Automated statistics that provide real-time insights and final statistics once the alert is complete.

Ideally, you need to be able to delve deeper than these basic features:

  • Pinpoint message delivery status, response status, and options chosen for specific sections of your data, rather than just seeing the overall statistics.
  • Track delivery and response trends across multiple alerts. This can prove useful in identifying teams or locations that may require additional training or support for quicker response times.
  • Set and monitor response time KPIs for critical alerts, ensuring that your emergency notification system works seamlessly alongside the targets set in your emergency response plans and recovery time objectives.

It is worth noting that reporting doesn’t end with message-related data. You should have the ability to inquire about the volume of personal data being processed by your emergency notification service, monitor user activity such as logins within a designated timeframe, and track and analyse data based on your specific use case requirements. 

7) Set up and Initial Deployment

While it’s crucial to dedicate time to set up your emergency notification system for optimal effectiveness in your organisation, configuring cloud-based software should not be a time-consuming task that requires extensive collaboration with your IT and HR departments.

Your mass notification service should sit alongside your existing systems, and use information already available to you in the format that you already store it in. This eliminates the need to adapt your processes to match the emergency notification software, streamlining your workflow from the start.

Customisable fields labels allow you to use the same terminology that you already use elsewhere, minimising training needs from day 1. Pre-built templates (customisable as needed) should be available so that as soon as you have imported your first set of contact data, you are ready to use your service. 

8) Customer Support and Expert Knowledge

The vast majority of emergency notification providers guarantee that their software will be available for you to use 99.999% of the time, so genuine support needs in the traditional sense of the word should be rare. However, there are always times when you could benefit from some extra guidance, or when something unexpected happens within your own organisation and you need extra support. The scope of support should go beyond simply selling you an annual subscription – it should include best practice guidance and ideas on maximizing the value of your service.

When evaluating mass notification software, it’s crucial to consider the support options available to you. Emergencies can occur at any time, so round-the-clock accessibility to personalised support tailored to your organisation and use case is essential. Just as you need multiple ways to trigger alerts, you should also have multiple avenues to access support – self-service resources, helpful articles, training videos, email, phone calls, and more.

9) Non emergency use

While emergency notification systems are primarily used to send emergency alerts, you may find that as you implement this software into your business, it can serve additional purposes. With the growing trends of remote and hybrid working, the traditional role of major incident alerts may have lessened. However, new challenges arise. For instance, in a hybrid environment, there is now a greater reliance on IT infrastructure while potentially having limited access to your IT support team. With the contact information already stored in your emergency notification system, it makes sense to explore other potential uses for this valuable tool.

The caveat on that is not to confuse your recipients by using your emergency notification service for non-urgent alerts such as daily meeting reminders. Otherwise, they may become indifferent to receiving alerts. Ideally, you should be able to separate your emergency messaging from other non-emergency cases, preserving the power and effectiveness of your emergency notification system. Choose a flexible and modular solution that can adapt to your evolving needs without compromising the core functionality of emergency notifications.

10) Security

An effective emergency notification system relies entirely on up-to-date contact information. This means that no matter which software you choose, you’ll be handling personal information and potentially transmitting sensitive data in your message content. Wherever your data subjects are located, you need to ensure your chosen provider can meet the necessary security standards to comply with your local data protection and privacy laws.

Look for a provider who maintains industry-standard accreditations such as ISO27001, ISO22301, Cyber Essentials Plus, and others, and make sure they have a proactive approach towards their security posture. Remember, security is not a one-time effort; it’s an ongoing commitment. You should expect your provider to regularly share security-related improvements, penetration testing results, and external audit reports. As part of your procurement process, ask potential providers how they will share this information with you. 

Your emergency notification system should allow you to mirror your organisation’s own security policies. Whether it’s a password policy or a lockout policy after a certain number of failed attempts, your system needs to align with your internal security practices. Choose a provider that enables you to seamlessly integrate these policies.

Read more from Alert Cascade…

March 1, 2023

Written by

Marketing Team

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