9 Mass Notification Lessons from the Past Decade

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With the 2010s ending, we asked Pat Scheckel, executive vice president of product management and marketing for Singlewire Software, to reflect on the mass notification lessons we’ve learned over the past decade.

Mass Notification Lessons

The past ten years have brought about eye-opening changes in the way we communicate and keep people safe during emergency situations. Organizations realized that without a comprehensive plan to address crisis situations, they are putting their people at risk. Good planning relies on strong communication, which is what tools like mass notification systems provide organizations looking to reach large groups of people in a short amount of time. As the variety of threats and potential targets continues to grow, so does the need to understand what works and what doesn’t when your organization faces an emergency.

As a leader in the mass notification industry, this decade has given us a number of valuable lessons to learn from, which I’ve collected in this blog post.

1. Prepare for Any Situation, Anywhere

Unfortunately, one of the biggest lessons we have learned in the past ten years, is that any kind of event or organization is susceptible to a catastrophic emergency. Concerts, businesses, houses of worship, schools, campuses and more have been targets for active shooter events, severe weather, fires, medical emergencies and other situations that put people at risk. Regardless of the situation, how organizations respond highlights four areas they need to focus on: speed, reach, urgency, and planning.

These have been core tenants behind the development of our mass notification products and features since the inception of InformaCast. We offer organizations almost endless customization when it comes to building messages so they can prepare for any situation. They can trigger those messages in a variety of ways to get messages out quickly, and those messages can reach a large ecosystem of connected devices and systems to ensure everyone receives the message they distribute. This has led to the development of features like InformaCast Command Center, which allows organizations to trigger notifications for common emergency scenarios from the InformaCast web console or mobile app with detailed information. We’ll dig deeper into each of these areas later in the blog post.

2. The Need for Speed

Most incidents happen in a few moments. Whether it’s a tornado that tears through a building, or an active shooter firing a gun, a few seconds is all it takes for devastation to ravage an organization. People need every advantage they can to help get the word out. Whether that’s a few seconds of advance warning or a simple way to trigger an alert, the faster a message gets out, the better people can prepare for disaster.

Singlewire has facilitated this through a growing network of ecosystem partners, and updates to our InformaCast software that make it easy to broadcast a notification. We integrate with panic buttons for notifications that be sent with just the push of a button. Our software can be configured on desk phones to mimic this functionality without the need for additional hardware. The InformaCast mobile app gives users with the right permissions the ability to trigger a notification from anywhere, so they do not need to be in front of a computer to get a message out.

Our integration with CAP feeds from the National Weather Service can automatically broadcast alerts when severe weather approaches, and integrations with hardware and software from our partner Early Warning Labs can help give advance warning about earthquakes for our customers on the West coast. Gunshot detection systems are another recent addition to the InformaCast ecosystem, offering another automatic way to trigger alerts. All of this helps notify people faster so they can get out of harm’s way.

3. Push For More Than Mobile

With a rise in the need to reach an entire organization’s population quickly, there has also been a rise in mass SMS text messaging solutions for notification. Part of the reason for this is that organizations see it as a cost-effective quick fix for a pressing problem. In many cases, this is true, as most people have their mobile devices on them and check them regularly. But relying solely on mass SMS text messaging to alert everyone in your organization overlooks some critical variables. For example, there could be any number of reasons a mobile device is inaccessible. Maybe someone is in a meeting, or students aren’t allowed to have them out in class. Maybe an older building has poor reception, or you have visitors that do not have cell phone numbers registered with your mass SMS system. Maybe it’s something as simple as a cell phone being on silent, so someone misses a message. The point is, if mass SMS text messaging is the only way you’re communicating with people about an emergency, it’s difficult to guarantee your message will reach everyone who needs to be informed.

Mass SMS text messaging needs to be supplemented with on-premises notification that helps reach everyone. That’s why Singlewire created InformaCast Fusion. Using a hybrid-cloud architecture, this mass notification system gives organizations the ability to manage and trigger alerts for on-premises and mobile devices from a single interface. Using a variety of formats, including SMS text, recorded and live audio, email, phone calls, desktop notifications, push notification, flashing lights and more, InformaCast Fusion gives users more ways of reaching people so that as close to 100 percent of your desired population is reached as possible.

4. Intrusive Audio Makes a Difference

Even if people do see an SMS text message, you can’t guarantee they will act on the information that’s been delivered. The same goes for scrolling text on a signboard, a computer pop-up, or text on other digital signage. To really get people’s attention, you need to leverage intrusive audio notifications for urgent communications. Whether live or recorded, playing audio messages interrupts ongoing operations in a way text messages cannot. They force people to stop and listen, so they can receive instructions that will help protect them from potentially dangerous situations. Live audio also has the advantage of being able to provide real-time instructions and updates for ongoing events. Adding visual elements like text and strobes helps strengthen the message that is being broadcast and makes notifications more accessible to those that might have hearing issues.

InformaCast’s first use case was live audio paging to Cisco IP phones because it was an effective way to deliver information. Over the past decade, we’ve continued to expand that capability to reach even more devices with live and recorded audio messages. Non-Cisco phones, IP speakers, and even desktop computers that utilize our InformaCast Desktop Notifier feature can be leveraged to broadcast audio that informs people about emergencies.

5. Reach People Where They Live

It has become increasingly important to reach people through the devices and applications they are using on a daily basis. Mobile devices can reach people wherever they are, and on-premises devices can reach people within a building or campus. But you need to get messages in front of people as quickly as possible, and changing environments mean certain devices aren’t guaranteed to be the best delivery method for mass notifications. Every delivery method has its strengths and weaknesses, but the more delivery methods you utilize, the more you reduce the chance that someone doesn’t receive an alert.

Singlewire began thinking beyond devices to offer integrations with prominent collaboration platforms like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams to bring notifications into platforms people check regularly. Cisco Webex Teams acts as an additional endpoint for receiving notifications. Microsoft Teams can serve as an endpoint, as well as a trigger and incident management tool. This is particularly important once initial alerts have gone out as organizations need to gather key team members and manage a response.

6. Education and Planning Take Precedence

More and more organizations are recognizing the need for mass notification tools, but we are encountering organizations that are struggling with how to begin putting together an emergency communication plan. While active shooter training has become almost as common as fire and tornado drills in some organizations, understanding how to best communicate with everyone in an organization, and who needs to be involved in that decision-making process, continues to be a stumbling block. The better an organization plans for an emergency, the better their response will be.

Singlewire has taken steps to help our prospective and current customers with this process by bolstering the resources we make available. Our blog offers helpful articles on topics that impact every part of the mass notification decision-making process, including planning, comparing solutions, and how to best implement a new system, as well as insights into trending safety and security topics. The Singlewire website offers long-form eBooks for detailed insights and case studies so new customers can learn from those who have already found success with InformaCast. We also launched the Singlewire Support Community to provide knowledge base articles on common issues and forums for users to discuss best practices.

7. Consistency Helps with Clarity

Even when everything goes right, things can still go wrong. As we mentioned, people may not receive a message for a variety of reasons, or a message goes out without enough information about what’s happening or what people should do. People may not recognize who the message is coming from, and with the extensive use of social media, information may spread quicker than you can send out messages. One way to combat this is by using branded messages on a consistent basis.

InformaCast allows organizations to customize messages with text, color, and images that match their branding to help make it clear where the message is coming from. Turning this branding into a standard template will help people understand who the message is from and that the message is important. This can help cut down on confusion, meaning people will react quicker to the information contained in your message. It also helps establish reliable channels people can turn to for accurate information and updates.

We also encourage our customers to find regular uses from mass notification within their organization so people don’t first see a message from the system in the midst of a crisis. We’ll expand on this point further down in the blog post.

8. Cost Continues to Concern

Finding money to pay for mass notification solutions is as much a challenge today as it was ten years ago. There’s no real way around it; implementing a new technology requires a budget that can support the implementation. While no one-size-fits-all answer exists from this problem, there are a couple of strategies organizations can utilize, and a few things Singlewire has done, to make this process easier.

First, we’ve found customers have success when the burden of the budget does not fall on one branch of an organization. It may be easy to say this kind of funding needs to come all from IT or your safety department, but the truth is, safety is everyone’s concern. Bringing more people into the conversation and pulling funding from different departments can help make paying for a mass notification system easier.

Second, from the beginning, Singlewire has looked to add value to existing technology with mass notification from InformaCast. Many organizations have already made large investments in devices like IP speakers, IP phones, panic buttons, digital signage and more. By integrating with these devices, organizations avoid buying new equipment and get the added benefit of leveraging these devices for safety.

Finally, we’ve made a move to switch to subscription-based pricing for our mass notification offerings. We’ve found this is a model that customers prefer as it gives them more flexibility when selecting a solution and allows them to acquire the solution at a lower upfront cost.

9. It’s Not Just About Emergencies

When we talk about mass notification, it’s often in the context of emergencies, but investing in a tool that can only be used when something goes wrong doesn’t add much overall value to your organization. For better ROI, you need to find daily, non-emergency uses for mass notification. This helps familiarize people with messages from the system, keeps administrators trained on how to use it, and can help manage ongoing tasks.

Features like our scheduling tool to send premade announcements or tones on a regular basis for uses like school bells, hospital visiting hours, and shift changes. Businesses can use live audio paging to gather people for an all-staff meeting, and our integration with devices that leverage contact closures can be used to trigger all sorts of actions like locking doors, shutting off power, or automating processes. We’ve also been holding in-person user group meetings so customers can share their uses cases with others and spark ideas that help them get more value out of InformaCast.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it does provide an overview of the scope of changes that the last ten years brought. The next ten years are sure to bring even more changes when it comes to best practices for safety and alerting. At Singlewire Software, we are always listening to our customers and the latest industry trends to ensure we are delivering tools that provide valuable solutions to pressing safety concerns.

 

 

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