Emergency notification systems in business disaster recovery planning

In this tip, learn about different emergency notification system options for your DR plan.

What you will learn in this disaster recovery tip: One of the most critical components of a disaster recovery (DR) plan is to develop the ability to quickly and efficiently notify key disaster recovery resources, staff and customers in the event of a disaster. This tip discusses why traditional methods no longer work and reviews some of the emergency notification systems available today for business disaster recovery planning.

Anyone who has ever had to use a call tree to notify employees in the event of a disaster will agree on one thing; call trees don't work if you have a significant number of people to notify. While the procedure may have been the only viable option 25 or 30 years ago due to technological limitations, it is no longer sustainable today. Call trees were extremely time consuming, error prone and if one person could not be reached early on, the entire notification process was seriously affected.

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But the telecom landscape had changed dramatically since then. People now use a variety of devices and media to communicate and exchange information. In some cases, a traditional phone number is no longer the easiest way to reach someone. For example, those involved with teenagers and young adults know very well that a text message will sometimes be answered before a phone call.

Technological advances have allowed developers and service providers to create solutions that provide a variety or very useful functions beyond simple notifications. Here are some examples of emergency notification systems for disaster recovery:

Standalone emergency notification products

Software-driven standalone products can deliver thousands of voice or text messages simultaneously to a variety of devices and media including mobile phones, email, text messages, pagers, etc. Attention Software's Attention Alert Manager, Dell MessageOne, Everbridge, RapidReach, SunGard's NotiFind (using Varolii technology) and Varolii are good examples of emergency notification products that can be purchased as standalone products and deployed in a corporate environment.

Many of these methods offer functionality that goes way beyond simple notification including:

  • Conference call capabilities
  • Person-to-person communication
  • Message center
  • Customer notification
  • Progress reporting
  • Employee reporting
  • Text to speech messaging

Service-based emergency notification systems

For organizations that do not have the capital budget or an appetite to deploy and maintain their own emergency notification system, a number of companies offer the same capabilities as a service for a fee. This approach offers the added benefit of deferring the responsibility of ensuring the redundancy and availability of the service to a third party. Dell's AlertFind, Onecallnow and VoiceShot Urgent Alert are a few companies that offer emergency notification as a service.

Simpler solutions

There are still services available to those who prefer to adopt a simpler and potentially lower cost solutions relying on telephone notification. These services can provide "live" recipients calls or answering machine bound messages with re-dial capabilities to deliver a notification message that can point to a web site or 800 number for information. Companies such as 911Broadcast.com and emergency-broadcasting.com, both Database Systems Corp. (DSC) companies, provide this type of service and are often used by public organizations.

Common pitfalls with emergency notification systems

There are however common pitfalls to many emergency notification systems that cannot be ignored.

  • Regardless as to what channel is being used for employee notification during a crisis, if the disaster recovery plan and contact information is not up to date, your notification system will be ineffective. This is why solutions that leverage a combination or voice, text and email notification have better chances of success than single notification methods such as traditional phone messages, because the odds of an employee changing all contact information are lower.
  • If the notification system is deployed within your organization rather than contracted as a service, some form of redundancy must be planned and built into the infrastructure supporting it. Imagine the impact of an emergency notification system, email server and BlackBerry server that were all deployed in a server room that has just been affected by disaster.
  • It is possible for some network to become temporarily unavailable during a large scale disaster such as a hurricane due to damage to the network or simply traffic overload. Again, this is where systems using a combination of notification methods will likely offer a higher success rate.

New media

Corporate entities are warming up to the use of social networking technologies such as Facebook, Twitter or Linkedin for business purposes. While this type of communication platform may not necessarily be suitable for emergency notification in its current form; it will not be surprising to see those networks leveraged in the near future for customer notification and updates in the event of a crisis or disaster.

Overall, there is a wide array of emergency notification systems available to companies large and small that help you communicate effectively with your staff. You can opt to implement their own systems or outsource them to another company, but regardless of which way you choose, be wary of the pitfalls and setbacks that emergency notifications have, and always keep your contact information and business disaster recovery plans up to date.

About this author: Pierre Dorion is the data center practice director and a senior consultant with Long View Systems Inc. in Phoenix, Ariz., specializing in the areas of business continuity and DR planning services and corporate data protection.


 

This was first published in May 2010

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