Definition

emergency notification system

An emergency notification system is an automated method of contacting a group of people within an organization and distributing important information during a crisis.

Following a disruption, an organization must determine its severity and potential impact, and then communicate with employees, management and other key stakeholders. Emergency notification systems relay corporate communications in real time, through phone messages, texts and emails.

Organizations of any size can implement an emergency communications plan. It is especially vital if there are multiple locations, and if the organization manufactures hazardous materials or uses systems whose destruction could harm employees and surrounding communities.

An emergency notification system contains a database of names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and social media contacts. When activated, the system has the ability to send thousands of messages within minutes. It can also receive and process incoming messages from recipients about their status.

Systems can be programmed in-house devices or managed services in which users access the system through a phone or the Internet, launch the notification process and remotely manage successive activities.

Implementing an emergency notification system

When planning an emergency notification system, you should:

  • Analyze anticipated requirements and determine if the number of employees is sufficient to justify the investment.
  • Check if existing technology features can be used in the system.
  • Confirm the network infrastructure has sufficient bandwidth to handle such a system during an emergency.
  • Allow enough time to develop the database and user training.
  • Determine how to integrate the system into a business continuity/disaster recovery plan.

It is crucial for organizations to keep emergency notification systems up-to-date. Systems that use a combination of voice, text and email notification are more likely to be successful than single notification methods as the odds of an employee changing all contact information are lower. In addition, a cellphone network could go down during a disaster while an email system could still be functional. The entire system should also be tested on a regular basis using calls and message blasts, for example.

While a call tree may have been a viable option in the past, it is no longer sustainable. A call tree is time consuming and if one person cannot be reached, the process can break down. It can still be used as a supplement to the notification system.

Pricing and vendors

Prices for a standalone emergency notification system can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Managed offerings are available for a monthly fee that is typically based on the number of contacts, features in use and network services needed. There may also be setup fees when the database is built, as well as activation fees when the system is used in a disaster. Monthly fees can run more than $25,000.

Vendor examples include MIR3 Inc., Rapid Notify Inc., SwiftReach Networks Inc. and Visiplex Inc.

See also: emergency communications plan

This was last updated in May 2016

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