Respond to Any Emergency
Organizations face a wide range of threats, which can make it difficult to create a response plan should an emergency occur. Emergency situations put the burden on the organization to alert their people about events taking place that could impact their safety. But it isn’t enough just to say you have a tool that can send out alerts. Distributing messages throughout an organization requires careful planning. Trying to make decisions in the midst of a crisis can often have negative consequences. That’s why you need to develop a plan that takes into account every step of the alerting process.
Regardless of the situation, there are certain basic questions every organization needs to answer that will help them create a plan for alerting their people about emergencies. Answering these questions is the first step in preparing for disaster. The better you can answer these questions, the better your response plan will be. In this blog post, we’ll outline the six questions your organization needs to answer to begin building a plan that will help you respond to any emergency.
1. What is the Situation?
Answering this question will likely impact your answers for the rest of the questions in this blog post. Different situations require different responses. Sometimes you need to notify everyone, sometimes just a select group. Sometimes loud audio is necessary, other times a silent alarm is more appropriate. You likely wouldn’t have the same responses plan for an active shooter that you would for a severe weather event. Consider the events your organization is most likely to encounter, as well as ones that may seem unlikely, but could cause serious disruptions if they occurred. The following questions will help you plan for those events but may require different answers given the situation.
2. Who Receives the Message?
With every situation, your organization needs to determine who is going to be alerted. As we stated above, this may require more nuance than broadcasting a message throughout an entire building. You may want security personnel to be alerted first, or the facilities team if there is an issue with the building. Sometimes your alerts may need to have escalations associated with them to expand them to a wider audience should certain people not respond.
Understanding what you want people to do once they receive a message will also help you determine the right audience. If you want people to evacuate, an organization-wide message may be most appropriate. For situations that require further investigation, higher-level administrators and your safety team may be the first people who receive a notification. Just remember that time is always of the essence. Alerting select groups before alerting everyone can waste valuable seconds when trying to keep people safe.
3. Who or What Triggers the Message?
Once you determine who the recipients will be, you need to choose how that message is going to get to them. Triggering messages can take many forms. Mobile apps, physical panic buttons, contact closures, keyboard shortcuts, and other devices and systems can all be used in conjunction with a mass notification system to trigger alerts. Part of determining how a message will be triggered is determining who will have permission to trigger it. Permissions may be limited to security staff or upper-level management. It may also be determined by location, such as a panic button underneath a receptionist’s desk. How restrictive or accessible you want your notifications to be is up to you to decide. Just be sure to consider how your activation methods will impact how quickly a message gets sent out.
4. What Devices Receive the Message and In What Format?
Different situations may call for different alerting methods. For example, you may want to use intrusive audio or flashing lights to get everyone’s attention. Certain events may require you to be more discrete when a message is triggered. SMS text messages and desktop notifications can provide silent methods of notification. You need to understand all the different alerting methods you have available to deliver a message. Live audio, recorded audio, text messages, email, push notifications, and strobes are just some of the ways you can communicate safety information in your organization.
The format may be dependent on the devices and systems you have available. If you want to reach people within a building, desk phones, IP speakers, digital signage, desktop computers, overhead paging, and other devices can help make everyone aware of the situation taking place. If people are not in a fixed location, being able to reach mobile devices is an important consideration as well. Determine what methods and devices are going to be most effective given the event taking place.
5. How is the Situation Managed?
Of course, getting the message out is only half the battle. Once it is distributed, and people are made aware of the situation taking place, you’ll need to actively manage a response to resolve what is happening. Mass notification can help alert people and bring them together to execute a response plan. Understand what method will be best for gathering your people. Automatically launching a conference call can gather people through desk phones and mobile devices. Using collaboration tools like Cisco Webex Teams or Microsoft Teams can gather people to coordinate what needs to be done and can further facilitate the response with floor plans, safety checklists and feeds from video surveillance systems.
You can also decide whether or not to ask for a confirmation response when sending out alerts. This can help you know who is safe and who needs assistance. You can then use this information to direct resources and provide aid.
6. When Will You Give the All Clear?
Just as it is important to let people know an emergency is taking place, it is also important to let them know when the situation is under control and it is safe to resume normal operations. This will vary depending on the severity and type of situation that occurred. Major weather events may require more cleanup, and active shooter situations may require additional time for police investigations. Understand who is in charge of providing an “all clear” and how that message will be communicated to members of your organization.
With these questions answered, you’ll have a strong foundation for your emergency communication plan. If you’re unsure about how to best approach certain scenarios, remember that it is always better to alert everyone via every available channel, than risk someone being put in harm’s way because they didn’t receive a message
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