There are many different ways to manage users in an emergency notification system (ENS). At its core, an ENS is used to keep your community (campus, school, or business) safe and informed in the event of an emergency.
Any communications strategy should include many different channels of communication. At Omnilert, we call this Omnimodal notification.
This often involves collecting contact info for your recipients, such as phone numbers and email addresses. One of the key challenges to implementing any ENS is getting that data into your system and keeping it up to date. There are two primary models at work here:
- Opt-In: Where your subscribers enter and manage their own contact info.
- Opt-Out: The organization collects and loads all contact info into the ENS and end-users must unsubscribe to stop receiving alerts.
Which one works best? That’s a tough call. There are benefits and limitations to both methods. (We could discuss those, but that’s a whole different topic.)
If your organization has already decided that an opt-out method might be the best way forward, there are a few things to consider first.
Use the following checklist to see if your organization is really ready to go fully “Opt-Out” for emergency notification. If you have solid, acceptable answers to each question below, you’re ready. If not, you may want to reconsider how you implement your ENS.
1. Do you have good contact data?
Do you really know where all of your potential users’ contact data is? Is it spread out across multiple spreadsheets, data systems, or even filled in at all? Did you collect proper cell phone numbers? (Hint: You’ll need the whole 10 digit phone numbers!)This probably sounds obvious, but going with an Opt-Out system means that your ENS is only as good as the data you’ve collected. This is where the phrase “garbage in, garbage out” is entirely true. If you load bad phone numbers into your system, you can expect bad results.
Has anyone checked to see how much data is really in those records? How old are they? Are they any good?
We often see cases where organizations think they have collected good info, but upon closer inspection, there’s huge gaps of missing or incorrect data.
Furthermore, if you don’t have contact data in accessible digital formats, you could end up with a large data entry task on your hands. If you have extra staff with nothing better to do and clearance to see/enter all that personal info, that might not be a problem. (However, I’m guessing that you don’t.)
2. Do you have permission to use that contact information?
When it comes to contacting people in their personal space, specifically on their cell phones, permission is key. If your users aren’t expecting you to use their phone number for texts, they’ll unsubscribe, complain, or worse: Tell others to unsubscribe.
When it comes to your emergency alerting policies, trust is key. Nobody likes a “spammer”. Sure, we know that your messages aren’t spam, but do your users?
A simple notice that you’re implementing an ENS can go a long way to building that trust. Give folks the option to remove themselves if they absolutely don’t want to participate. In our experience, very few will opt-out if given notice.
Also note: Your system should include an opt-out mechanism. For example, Omnilert’s Opt-Out management system includes a “reply to opt-out” function in its core.
3. Do you have the resources needed to maintain your data?
Silly question, right? Wrong. So many institutions don’t realize what they’re signing up for. When you move to an opt-out system, you’re taking on the responsibility to keep that information up to date. Keeping track of a large population of personal cell phone numbers can be like herding cats.
Once the data’s in the system, it’s going to be a continual process to keep it fresh. If you have the time and technical resources to keep that data up to date, then you’re in good shape.
If you don’t have these resources, then your best bet will be to go with an opt-in method until you do.
4. What’s your legal exposure? (Ask a lawyer… )
When you’re uploading user data, you’re taking on more responsibility for that data. You’ll want to check all of this with your organization’s legal department. Make sure that your state/local laws don’t prohibit your actions. Make sure that you aren’t exposing your institution to any unforeseen legal issues.
Some states may mandate one thing while another prohibits it. You may be OK to proceed, but it’s always better to ask the legal team first.
So, to recap, you should have access to good data, with permission to use it, resources to maintain it, and the legal authority to use it.
If you’ve been through this whole checklist and everything looks good, you’re ready to move forward. If not, that’s OK. You may need to take a step back and do some more investigating or look for an alternative to opt-out.
It’s perfectly acceptable and often preferable to use an opt-in method, if it works better for your environment.
Of course, also be sure to pick a vendor that will work with you and help you every step of the way.