Not all emergency communication software is created equal. Here are four tips to help you choose the best system for your organization
There are several emergency notification software vendors who offer a variety of features and functionalities that organizations can leverage to improve their communication strategy. While many of these capabilities may seem beneficial, it is important to focus on the specific needs of your organization when evaluating technologies. Too many complex features can make the software overwhelming and difficult to use, slowing adoption and adding extra steps to the process of sending important communications. Ultimately, you want to find a reliable platform that can send quick and effective notifications to keep your people safe, informed, and connected.
Here are four key factors to consider when choosing the best emergency notification system for your organization:
Evaluate your needs and assess your risk
When designing an emergency communication plan, start by understanding what is at risk: your people, facilities, parts and products, intellectual property, technology, and automobiles and/or fleet. All of your assets, and the operations that depend on these assets, are at risk when an emergency arises.
Ask yourself, what are the emergencies that are most likely to occur? IT outages, weather-related incidents, power failures, and security lockdowns are the most common. Each location where your company operates, including home offices, may have different variables and risks to evaluate. Consider the weather and geological events prone in those areas, security and IT support in those facilities, the nearest emergency response organizations and hospitals, and the number of employees who may be affected.
Each facility likely differs as far as how buildings and workspaces are designed, evacuation routes, surrounding streets and neighborhoods, and even the demographics of the staff located in each building. Some locations may have handicapped employees, elderly, or even children in an office daycare. Are there elevators or stairwells? An easy route for emergency vehicles? Are there any hazardous materials stored at any of the locations? All of these factors may come into play during an emergency and you need to be equipped with the right technology to effectively communicate with your people. Thinking through all of the possible scenarios, and thinking through what communication steps will be required, will help you decide which software solution makes the most sense.
Look for software vendors that provide the features and functionality you need.
Emergency communication platforms differ greatly and the ideal product will be customized to your organization’s specific needs and requirements. Some of the key characteristics you will want to look for in an emergency communication system will include:
- Intuitive user experience
- Two-way communications
- Multi-channel delivery
- Compatibility with any device
- Measurement tools, analytics, and reporting
- Dedicated customer support
One of the most important features to look for in an emergency notification system is an intuitive user experience. When you are under time pressure or stress from an impending crisis, you need to know that you can quickly and accurately operate the system within seconds. Some solutions were built decades ago and have continued to add features to a legacy system. These often require time and effort to integrate with your existing systems. Instead, find modern software that was built during the smartphone era. Modern platforms will be much easier to adopt and maintain. In fact, the best solutions today are cloud-based so you never need to worry about maintenance. They can provide a more reliable and secure platform you know will be there when you need it most.
Two-way communication is relatively new and mirrors the expectations the audience has: to be a part of the conversation. Social media has changed our perceptions of how we should communicate and now more than ever, people insist on being a contributor and engaging in dialogue. Modern mass communication systems value employee feedback and input. In fact, it is the first-hand eyewitnesses that can often offer the most insight during a situation. The right system will allow your people to initiate communications, which makes sense since they may be the first ones to be witness to an incident.
Multi-channel communication options are critical, as employees are more mobile than ever, and as your people communicate in a greater variety of ways than ever before. A communication system needs to enable more than just phone and email communications. It must include any and all channels your employees are using, such as text messages, native apps, social media, Slack, and more.
Gone are the days of employees sitting at their desks from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. We are constantly traveling, working remotely from home, an airport, a coffee shop, or a hotel. You need a system that can send notifications and alerts simultaneously across all devices, anywhere in the world. Not only will this ensure the highest receive rate, but it will also get the employees’ attention as all channels are activated at once.
Measuring the success of a notification is an important step in the process and the well-being of your people. A great communication system will give you the analytics you need to determine if your notification was effective, measuring how each delivery channel performed, open rates for notifications, response rates, and employee feedback. Using these metrics and additional detailed reports, you can help improve emergency plans, find gaps in message coverage, and identify areas for overall improvement.
And finally, the best emergency communication vendors provide you with dedicated customer support that you can access 24/7. From implementation to every day operations, it is important to know that you have a live resource at your fingertips to assist you or answer your questions.
Make sure the software is easy to implement
Adding a new communication system does not end with your software selection. The right software will offer you features and functionalities you did not have before, but those can only be effective if people are empowered to use them.
If your system of choice is intuitive and easy-to-use, then it will not require extensive training, and you can easily add new users who can access the platform and send messages during critical events without pause or confusion. Knowing when and how to use the system, knowing what situations are considered worth acting on, and knowing who is to receive the communications – this all takes planning, but you can soften those challenges by selecting the right partner. And the key to selecting the right partner is ensuring that they have a customer support representative dedicated to your account to walk you through each step of the process.
The most important step in implementing a communication system is to customize the software for your organization’s structure and geography. Every location will have its own list of employees, potential threats, and other considerations. The right communication system will automate much of this for you, particularly if it is integrated with your HR application. Setting up the directories should not take long but can save you invaluable time when a critical situation arises.
In our fast-paced world, you want to ensure that you can send messages on-the-go. One of your first priorities will be to download your vendor of choice mobile app on all of your devices to ensure you can send and receive notifications at all times.
You can further customize the software to include the channels you know are most prevalent in your organization. Does your company use two-way radios? Flashing lights? Whatever channel you want to include should be able to be easily added and modified at will using an Application Program Interface (API). Keep in mind that with the help of customer support, you can use an API to integrate all of your existing systems and any customized channels you will want to add to the communications software.
Look for a system that allows you to pre-build templates for every channel, as well as the ability to customize your messages. If you know of certain situations when an automated notification can be sent, such as weather alerts or schedule changes, go ahead and create it. Otherwise, learn how to build your own message on the fly quickly so you are familiar with the steps during an emergency event.
And finally, familiarize your organization with the system by sending a test message. Use the system to notify employees about the new system. Check to see if everyone received the notification, which channels delivered the notification, how long it took for the notification to be drafted and sent, and if the message sent was the right message.
Once a vendor is chosen do not be afraid to ask for help if you need it. The vendor should provide implementation and configuration support around the clock as part of the contract.
Consider other uses for the system
If you choose the right emergency communication system, you will quickly find that it is useful for a wide variety of other business needs. In fact, the system can be used in any situation where a large number of employees need critical or time-sensitive information.
Some of the more interesting ways a communication system can be used is with logistics and scheduling. Generally, organizations with scheduled shift workers and/or fleet drivers have to manage a lot of moving parts. Using the system to communicate back and forth with these employees can be much more efficient than most dispatch systems.
Event planning, guest communications, and volunteer coordination are all eased with a mass communication system. Again, because the system can engage people across channels and devices, messages, alerts, notifications, and tips can all be received more reliably. Some organizations are foregoing time-consuming email newsletters for instant notifications using a mass communication system.
Some common non-emergency uses of mass notification systems include:
- Weather-related notifications that may impact classes, events, or games
- Traffic alerts
- Members-only notifications
- Billing alerts
- Venue changes
- Event updates and reminders
- Parking tips
- Closings or delays
- Shipping notifications
- Appointment/reservation reminders
- Guest, customer, or employee surveys
If you aren’t sure which system is best for your organization, see if the vendors you are considering offer demonstrations or trial periods. While you evaluate the technology, keep a close eye on the level of service. You want people who know not only communications, but your industry. They should provide around-the-clock support with real people answering the calls so you know in an emergency, you can talk to a live person.
No matter the size of your organization, you and your employees deserve to work in a safe environment. Once you have chosen a great solution, you will be able to take comfort in knowing you have something in place to keep everyone informed and connected. By doing your homework on the front end and choosing the right emergency notification vendor, you will greatly increase the odds of your organization getting through an emergency safely and with very little impact on operations.
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