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Mass notification systems: Read these tips, form a plan

If you plan on implementing a mass notification system, this technology overview, vendor chart and handy planning checklist should answer any outstanding questions.

In the business continuity and disaster recovery field, a mass notification system sends one-way messages to email,...

smartphones, office phones and home phones to inform staff and the public of an emergency situation.

This tip provides guidance on how to determine the need for mass notification systems, the types of systems and delivery mechanisms available, ideas on designing and implementing a system, and examples of MNS products.

How does a mass notification system work?

Mass notification systems have a database of names, numbers, email addresses and other delivery points. They must also have a suitably robust communications infrastructure with sufficient bandwidth to deliver hundreds and possibly thousands of messages with minimal delay. As delivery is one-way, a larger variety of delivery mechanisms can be used, including audible devices such as speakers, visual displays and a combination of these devices.

Activation of mass notification systems is not limited to human action. Various sensing devices, such as heat detectors, smoke detectors, gas detectors, chemical detectors, water sprinkler activation and discharge of fire extinguishing equipment, can trigger a message launch. Organizations can establish interfaces to other specialized systems, such as elevators, HVAC systems and building security systems.

The National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) provides guidance in the planning, design and implementation of a mass notification system, as well as fire alarm system planning.

Mass notification systems, mass notification system, MNS
A basic view of a mass notification system.

Do you need a MNS?

Work with your internal facilities and emergency management teams to determine the specific requirements for mass notification systems. If the movement of information is strictly one-way, either an emergency notification system or an MNS will work. If two-way return messages are desired, an organization should use an emergency notification system.

Once your organization's requirements have been established, use NFPA 72 to prepare a request for proposal. Identify and research prospective suppliers. When evaluating vendors, obtain several references from each and contact them. The following chart provides an overview of some of the major MNS vendors.

A sampling of mass notification system providers

Vendor

Description

AlertMedia

Multi-channel, two-way mass communication platform

AtHoc Inc. (A division of BlackBerry)

Enterprise-class, net-centric mass notification and emergency communication

Cooper Industries (Part of Eaton Corp.)

Global power management company

Emergency Communications Network

Incident notification services for government and businesses

Everbridge Inc.

Global provider of software as a service-based unified critical communications

MIR3 Inc.

Mass notification and emergency notification software

Omnilert LLC

Intuitive mass communication technology developer

One Call Now

Mass-messaging service provider

Rapid Notify Inc.

Emergency notification and communication services

Singlewire Software LLC

Mass notification, emergency alerts, mobile communication

SwiftReach Networks Inc.

Emergency notification provider

Visiplex Inc.

Wireless paging systems and emergency notification

MNS checklist

When evaluating mass notification systems, the following checklist can help:

  • Verify that an MNS is needed and conduct an analysis of your requirements. Determine the minimum and maximum number of people and organizations to be contacted, as well as the initiation devices and message delivery options.
  • Prepare a request for information or request for proposal.
  • Find out if existing technology may have features that can be used for outbound emergency notification.
  • Ask vendor references if they had any problems during planning, installation, training and post-cutover operations.
  • Confirm the vendor offers electronic and hard-copy system documentation, and store copies in multiple secure locations.
  • Ensure you have an available server, power supply, backup power system and sufficient horsepower to handle the system and its database.
  • Certify that your network infrastructure has sufficient bandwidth to handle the bursts of traffic a mass notification system can generate during an emergency.
  • Allow sufficient time when preparing your project plan to develop the database, user training, system management and system maintenance.
  • Incorporate the system in all exercise activities.
  • Regularly check MNS capabilities via test calls; conduct occasional, large-scale blasts of notification messages.

Your organization's internal phone system may have an all-page feature that can broadcast a voice message through the speakers in the base of each phone. It may also allow you to dial a specific access code to broadcast live messages. Individual paging zone features that support localized requirements -- such as for individual floors in a building -- can also be configured.

Next Steps

How incident management differs from emergency notifications

Examine costs of emergency management systems

Create a call tree for recovery situations

This was last published in April 2016

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What is the most important element of a mass notification system?
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One of the most critical and surprisingly not mentioned in the article is outdoor wide area mass notification, it is the oldest method of MNS and arguably the most reliable. Outdoor systems inform the large campus or immediate area outside a building and reach those who are not at a computer, looking at or able to use their phone. Countless studies have reported that most people in an emergency situation require 2 notifications to act,it is more often than not in these surveys that the outdoor loud speakers or Giant Voice speakers were one of the two. people hear the outdoor siren or message and look at their phone, computer or television for verification, or they get a text then hear the loud siren and they know it is an emergency. ATI Systems has been the leader in providing such systems worldwide for over 30 years. For more information check out our web site at www.ATISYSTEM.com
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evigilo, has a field proven, reliable and robust mass notification system, you should check it out.
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The list of MNS products is not exhaustive. There are several large, proven, noteworthy products on the market (both in North America and elsewhere) which are omitted.
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Thank you for the comments. What other MNS products do you like?
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