Relying only on text messages to communicate alerts to your people during an emergency is not enough. Taking an ‘omnimodal’ approach is required to maximize safety and security.
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A mass notification system (MNS) is a platform designed to deliver information to a group of people. Traditionally, this information went one-way, from the sender to the recipient, in the form of email, text message, or reverse 911 calling mechanisms.
Emergencies do not happen on a clock. They can happen at any time, anywhere, and the best solution is to be proactive. Having a complete crisis communication solution in place ensures that whatever situations may arise, you are as prepared as you can be. When formulating plans and preparations for emergency response, a mass notification system is an integral component. Many of the benefits afforded by a mass notification system are ubiquitous across industries, but the best systems should be able to adapt to individual needs and challenges. The result is minimized damage, protected assets, and the best possible outcome.
The ability to send notifications is an integral part of a crisis communication solution. This involves sending a mass notification via SMS (text message) or email. However, the issue with this limited form of emergency communication is that you need to be near your mobile devices or computer. Aside from informing recipients about an inclement danger, a single mass notification does not equip them to handle emergencies or even appropriately respond to them.
For one, this form of communication operates on the assumption that everyone who needs to receive the information will. That is not always the case. For employees in a meeting, they likely will not be looking at their phones. What if you are a student in a classroom? Alternatively, a doctor in a lab? An efficient mass notification system will do more than just send an SMS or email alert. It will mitigate risk by reducing the margin for human error.
Any feature beyond standard one-way communication gives users an edge in emergency scenarios. However, the single most crucial component of emergency response is preparedness. Hopefully, the day will never come where you are required to rely on crisis communications; but, having plans of action for every conceivable emergency is the single best way to help them efficiently.
It is vital, then, that you choose a provider who can not only prepare you through tools and guidance but do so with a platform that's streamlined and straightforward to use—even under the extreme duress of a crisis. Omnilert’s Scenarios® do precisely that, allowing emergency notification administrators to roll out a series of preconfigured actions automatically. When searching for an MNS provider, look for a few key features:
Multimodal capabilities that extend an administrator’s reach to the maximum number of recipients; no matter where they are
Seamless compatibility with third-party systems to launch automated alerts
Care that transcends perfunctory customer service through genuine empathy
The Importance of Multimodal Capabilities
One of the most important features of any mass notification system is multimodal capabilities. Or, as we call it, Omnimodal. During a crisis, it is critical that every line of communication is pursued… simultaneously. The reason for this is twofold. First, people have different preferred methods of communication. One individual might be more likely to see a text notification on their phone while another is more likely to see an alert delivered via a digital sign or desktop.
Second, people often need more than one call to action. The tornado in Joplin, Missouri exemplifies this. In 2011, nearly a thousand people were injured, and more than 150 were killed when a deadly tornado hit the area. Despite the fact that tornado sirens had sounded well in advance, they were disregarded as being drills. Residents reported that until they had received this information from another source (such as TV or radio), they had believed the siren was only routine.
Consider this quote from the Partnership for Public Warning:
"A single warning is frequently insufficient to move people to action, especially if it cannot be confirmed by direct observation. For most people, the first warning received captures their attention and triggers a search for corroboration but cannot be relied on to elicit the desired behavior. Scientific research supports the common-sense observation that people are disinclined to risk being fooled by a single alarm that might prove false or accidental. The effective warning requires the coordinated use of multiple channels of communication."
Multimodal capabilities not only maximize an alert’s reach, but the redundancy of the message galvanizes recipients into action. This is key - the ability to send multiple different messages to multiple different groups of people across multiple kinds of devices.
For instance, if the intention is to protect a classroom full of students from inclement weather, every possible avenue of communication would need to be pursued to ensure the necessary information reached them. Texts might be sent to their phone, but they are more likely to see the notification that appears on the teacher's desktop as the afternoon lecture is projected onto a screen. The notification flashes across TV screens in lobbies. Simultaneously, an email reaches out to parents letting them know the situation is being handled, or when and where they can pick up their children. Not only does this increase the success of notification delivery, but it also leaves no doubt as to whether or not the alert is a drill.
Interoperability: Putting the “System” in Mass Notification System
When analyzing the outcomes of crises, it has been discovered that even those who did receive an alert did not know how to respond. A notification warning you about an active shooter does not tell you that it is best to shelter in place, lock doors and windows, and wait for further instructions. It also doesn't inform authorities (i.e., police, first responders, firefighters) or offer a centralized mode of unified command for decision makers.
To truly be effective in a crisis, a mass notification system needs to be exactly that—a system. In addition to being multimodal, an interoperable system will also have the capacity to connect with third-party technology like sirens, wall-mounted alert beacons, displays on plasma TVs, LED signage, a loudspeaker system, IP-based television systems, and even other safety and informational mobile apps. This ability to interconnect means that no avenue of communication is left unpursued. Every possible lead is pursued, meaning the maximum number of recipients are reached, and a community is as prepared as it can be.
A Provider that Cares and Prepares
Deciding on an MNS provider is no small decision. When lives are on the line, you want to be sure that your trust is well-placed. They should feel like an ally in the way that they prepare you for every stage of a crisis. Omnilert is a company grounded in compassion, and our full suite of crisis communications is designed to equip teams for every stage of an emergency.
When we think of an emergency, we think of those few intense moments where human life hangs in the balance. However, a complete emergency response takes into account pre- and post-crisis periods.
As previously mentioned, preparation is key to averting and handling crises. For mass notification systems to efficiently function, some preconfiguring and planning has to be tackled. First, a team must be assembled. Who will be tasked with disaster response? Your emergency response team will likely include those from the authoritative level of your organization.
For instance, a business might include a number of employees from Human Resources as well as the executive level. A school most obviously would opt for campus safety officers but might also include members of student affairs. Carefully consider what personalities will do best under pressure; it is not always wise to hand the responsibility of crisis management to the person with the most authority. This is the time to ask yourself questions like “who is likely to be reliable in a crisis? Who has the steadiness to make quick decisions with the community’s well-being in mind?”
Once you have a practical and level-headed team assembled, possible threats must be assessed—everything from gas leaks to violent intruders. It is important to consider what scenarios warrant the use of mass notification systems. This is also the time to consider at what point during an emergency scenario you will need to reach out to law enforcement and first responders. The pre-crisis stage involves a lot of asking and answering questions. At what point in a given crisis should outside help be contacted? How will the message be dispersed, and who is authorized to do so? What will the message say?
It is well worth putting extra time and effort into these considerations because it determines the success of your emergency response. Should an emergency ever arise, you have already gone through the mental exercise of playing out similar circumstances and as a result, have all the pieces in place. You have more than a head start. You have certainty that you have done everything you can to ensure the best possible outcome.
The first minute of a crisis is the most important. It is a race against the clock as your preconfigured plans commence. A multimodal approach provides the most comprehensive reach, and the pre-scripted actions provide necessary emergency information, which can be followed with more detailed notifications, both mass and personal.
It may also be necessary to mobilize external resources such as law enforcement, firefighters, first responders or even a HAZMAT team. Using a mass notification system that can integrate with external parties and speed the process of summoning help can make a significant difference when every second counts.
It is critical to communicate throughout the emergency with your response team, as well as members of the community. Having a reservationless telephone conference and a web conferencing meeting that can be initiated instantly allows for convenient and streamlined communication for decision makers. Instant, unified command enables decision makers to share live video feed, maps, and any data needed to make informed decisions.
It is very important to be able to tap into the thoughts and insights of the community, which may be able to provide ground-level information. This can be accomplished through inbound text messages and social media. Depending on the circumstances, it may also be necessary to keep the public informed with updates so that individuals do not disseminate misinformation. A mass notification system that enables multiple modes of communication—two-way communication between the community and emergency response team, updates to social media, and secure web conferencing—gives users a distinct advantage during an emergency situation.
After an incident is settled, it is essential to review and analyze what transpired. Omnilert’s Success Program teaches your team how to identify critical data points and how to deconstruct any experiences, reports, or even social media feedback that resulted from the incident. Post-crisis analysis is a learning experience that can reveal where a plan succeeded, as well as where it might need improvement. Even though the most well-thought-out scenario still won't fit a crisis perfectly, it is important to amend and revise as needed so that a plan can mold most efficiently to the situation.
When considering a mass notification system, opt for a provider that does more than selling you tools. In addition to integrable features, a full suite of critical communication solutions ought to include both a preparatory stage and a post-crisis stage so that users have an expert grasp on the platform and its functions. Why? Because that gives you the best chance of protecting the people in your care, whoever they are and wherever you happen to be.
A quick Google search reveals that mass notification systems are a rapidly growing market. In light of the decade’s mass shootings and a slew of natural disasters, more and more people recognize the need for safety precautions and additional security measures. Still, many don’t understand the effectiveness of a mass notification system—they may not even know that these systems exist.
While violent crime in the United States has decreased significantly since the nineties, a particularly pointed form of homicide is on the rise: mass shootings. Just six months ago, in October 2017, we witnessed the deadliest attack yet when a gunman fired over a thousand rounds from multiple weapons on concertgoers, killing 58 and injuring over 800. More recently, the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School resulted in the deaths of 17 people. While there is no universally accepted definition of “mass shooting,” there’s no doubt that these large-scale acts of violence have increased in recent years. Individuals on both sides of the gun control issue can agree that a mass notification system is a valuable step toward protecting human life.
Mass notification systems are an important component in protecting communities from inclement weather. Natural disasters of almost every kind are occurring more frequently than they did thirty years ago. It is also worth noting that even though disasters are increasing (as well as the costs of repair), fewer people are dying. This is due to improved safety precautions ranging from architectural innovation to general, adaptive capacity. The use of a mass notification system can also play a role in reducing needless death, simply through keeping communities better informed and prepared.
In an era where we are all connected to our screens, an MNS is the best way of sharing important information—especially if the system is multimodal. So, who benefits from these systems? The short answer is everyone. The long answer involves looking at the different industries that have benefited from mass notification systems, and how.
With people coming and going, public spaces and venues are a particular challenge when it comes to safety and security. Traditionally, public spaces make use of a public announcement system. However, PA systems are only as effective as they are audible. For visitors who are deaf or hard of hearing, this method of communication would fall flat. Even for hearing-abled individuals, a PA is not effective by itself. In a loud and crowded place, it might not be the case that visitors can detect an important notification. Take, for instance, a mall. It might be that the PA system is not located throughout stores but present only in the common spaces. In any case, tenants can easily miss a critical message.
An integrable mass notification system is a far more effective means of public safety and security. If pre-scripted, outbound messages send phones buzzing and ringing at the same time, many more people will be reached. Implementing a mass notification system that has the added benefit of natural voice alert technology that allows authorized personnel to transmit their own pre-recorded alert messages is critical. This makes it easy to communicate in multiple languages, which could be especially helpful in places like airports, malls, and recreational venues.
An administrator’s reach will be further extended if the mass notification system can coordinate with a lockdown mechanism, as well as interface with the PA system, outside law enforcement, and whatever digital signage might be available. It is these multiple layers of communication that make mass notification systems the most effective solution for public safety.
Campuses are one of the most prominent users of mass notification systems. Especially in light of school shootings, more and more educational facilities are incorporating mass notification systems into their emergency response tactics. Omnilert first recognized the importance of MNS on campuses back in 2003, when the founders read an article about Jeanne Clery’s on-campus murder and her family’s proactive response. They conceived e2Campus. A year later, Anne Arundel Community College launched the technology and became the first North American school to use a mass notification system.
In fact, Jeanne Clery’s story is the same story that precipitated the Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act (Clery Act). A federal law, the Clery Act initially called for disclosure of campus safety information. After the tragedy at Virginia Tech, it was updated to require campuses to use immediate notifications in any emergency that threatens the well-being of students and employees.
This is because even though Virginia Tech had access to email and text notifications, there was no plan in place to utilize them in the event of an emergency. In fact, a loudspeaker announcement was made twenty minutes after the attack began, informing staff and students to take cover. Almost two hours passed before a single communication was sent—an email. The massacre only lasted a matter of minutes, but 33 lives were lost.
Every minute of an emergency is critical, whether you are being faced with inclement weather or an active shooter. An effective mass notification system is designed for speedy ease-of-use despite the complex configurations it can manage, such as allowing emergency notification administrators to subdivide their community depending on the department, location, and roles of community members. The directions imparted to school authorities and security personnel will probably need to be different from the information communicated to students. Not only does group-specific information need to be released immediately, but that information needs to be delivered through multiple channels. Every feature of a mass notification system is designed to maximize protection of people and assets while minimizing the margin for human error.
When an emergency occurs within a workplace, those charged with the safety of employees need a fast and seamless way to inform separated groups of people. A comprehensive threat response not only protects employees but also helps maintain uninterrupted business operations where possible, and maintains brand and corporate standards.
The truth is, few people can think lucidly during a crisis. Adrenaline kicks in and fight-flight-or-freeze (also called an acute stress response) comes along with it. The solution, then, is to have an action plan beforehand. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that workplaces have the following, at a minimum: The Occupational Safety and Health Administration recommends that workplaces have the following, at a minimum:
A preferred method for reporting fires and other emergencies;
An evacuation policy and procedure;
Emergency escape procedures and route assignments, such as floor plans, workplace maps, and safe or refuge areas;
Names, titles, departments, and telephone numbers of individuals both within and outside your company to contact for additional information or explanation of duties and responsibilities under the emergency plan;
Procedures for employees who remain to perform or shut down critical plant operations, operate fire extinguishers, or perform other essential services that cannot be shut down for every emergency alarm before evacuating; and
Rescue and medical duties for any workers designated to perform them.
In addition, with the goal of reducing the severity of workplace accidents and injuries by ensuring systems and procedures are in place to alert employees to workplace emergencies, OSHA mandates:
As the employer, it is your responsibility to provide a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to employees.
Employers must now address the “hazard” of an aggressive intruder or active shooter who means to do harm to people in work settings.
The employer shall provide warning for necessary emergency action as called for in the emergency action plan, or for reaction time for safe escape of employees from the workplace or the immediate work area, or both.
A mass notification system neatly addresses each of these points, with additional features that perfect the process. When MNS is that “preferred method,” there’s no question or confusion as to how to communicate during a crisis. The centralized hub provided by a mass notification system makes for a fluid, two-way conversation.
While every workplace should have an evacuation policy in place, it might not be readily accessible (via memory or documentation) to those in need of it. Our acute stress response essentially triggers a “lockdown” of the prefrontal cortex; that is to say, the part of our brain associated with logic and reasoning. This temporary affectation makes way for more primal instincts, and blood and oxygen are redirected to the lungs and muscles. However, our rational thinking might be affected, as well as the ability to recall information.
Many places have the perfunctory fire extinguishers, exit signs, and perhaps even routine drills. However, without automated technology, there's still a significant margin for human error in their threat response. A mass notification system engineers human error out of evacuation procedures by supplying critical information through preconfigured text, voice call, email, digital signage, and so forth. Floor plans and maps can also be dispersed via an MNS directly to a community’s fingertips, and all the contacts and connections (both internal and external) are already built into the system.
When it comes to critical communications, here are just a few of the names that trust Omnilert:
Omnilert is the creator of the world’s first campus emergency notification system. Now, we provide our services to all industries in an effort to keep people safe and connected. Pair our flagship technology with our Success Program and you are fully prepared for emergency response. A combination of committed support, personalized service, and expert training equips personnel for optimal performance. We help you take your emergency notification and response plan and bring it to life. We make sure each alert is being sent to the correct group as well as being sent to the correct end points. We help you comply with best practices and regulations to improve workplace safety.
When successful, teams can secure properties and save lives. At Omnilert, we understand the gravity of these responsibilities and make it our duty to understand your challenges and support you through your most difficult moments.