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Top mass notification system vendors and how to choose one

Mass notification systems are crucial to a business continuity and disaster recovery strategy. To choose the right system, cross-check its capabilities with your requirements.

Mass notification systems send one-way messages via email, smartphones, office phones and home phones to inform...

staff and the public of an emergency. These systems contain a database of names, numbers, email addresses and other delivery points, as well as a system that delivers messages to everyone in the database as quickly as possible.

In a business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) scenario, organizations may use emergency notifications in a variety of circumstances. They can inform employees of crises that occur in or around critical locations such as office buildings and data centers. These types of notifications are crucial to a BCDR plan. They keep employees safe and informed, as well as set organizations up to begin recovery processes as soon as possible.

Mass notification system activation is not limited to human action. Organizations can initiate the notification process manually or set notifications to go out automatically in response to various conditions. 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 and building security.

The vast field of mass notification system vendors today can meet a variety of needs for organizations of all sizes. To choose the right vendor, organizations must assess their notification system needs, such as type of message, company size, cost and location of employees.

Getting started

A business can work with its internal facilities and emergency management teams to determine specific requirements for mass notification systems. If the movement of information is strictly one-way, either an emergency notification system or a mass notification system will work.

Unlike a mass notification system, an emergency notification system enables responses between the recipient and the sender. If the company requires two-way return messages, an emergency notification system may be a better fit.

Once the organization establishes its requirements, it can use NFPA 72 to prepare a request for proposal. NFPA 72 is the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code, a standard published by the National Fire Protection Association. This standard is used in the U.S. to guide the process from initial application and installation to testing and maintenance.

The proposal must identify prospective suppliers. When evaluating vendors, obtain several references from each and contact them.

Once an organization has determined that it needs a mass notification system, facilities and emergency management teams must determine which one is the best fit.

How to choose a vendor

Once an organization has determined that it needs a mass notification system, facilities and emergency management teams must determine which one is the best fit.

There are numerous mass notification system vendors currently on the market. Systems can vary widely in terms of scope and capability, so a business must know its requirements before it begins the process.

Consider the types of organizations that each notification system is designed to service. Some mass notifications, for example, are designed for corporations, while others are intended for schools or government agencies.

The next step in the process is to determine who must be notified in an emergency. A public utility might need to alert an entire community in the event of a serious emergency, whereas a business may only need to notify its employees. Is one-way communication enough, or does the organization need responses?

Below are some of the major mass notification system vendors on the market today.

Vendor

Description

AlertMedia

· Offers a multichannel notification system that rapidly distributes time-sensitive information

· Supports two-way messaging, which employees can use to confirm that they are safe

BlackBerry AtHoc

· Used by government agencies and with FEMA's Integrated Public Alert and Warning System

· Complies with the EU's European Electronic Communications Code

· Can deliver critical information to employees, or to the general public

Eaton

· Provides an array of products for both in-building and wide-area mass notifications

Everbridge

· Works in emergency and nonemergency situations

· Supports up to 25 different communications paths

· Supports two-way communications through a dedicated mobile app

OnSolve

· Sends alerts to employee mobile devices via mobile data networks or Wi-Fi

· Enables employee feedback

· Can instantly initiate a conference call

· Formerly MIR3

Omnilert

· Provides tools for natural disasters, active shooter incidents, utility failures and health emergencies

· Services focus on prevention, notification, engagement and management

Rave Alert

· Sends notifications through text message, voice, WebEOC, public address systems, desktop alerts, digital signage, and more

· Offers ease of use and rapid deployment

· Formerly Rapid Notify

Singlewire InformaCast

· Gives businesses the ability to see who is safe and who might need help with insight into who has and who has not read notifications

· Enables organization to escalate to a larger group of recipients, if necessary

SwiftReach

· Offers emergency notification system geared toward schools

· The system uses georedundant data centers to transmit alerts with speed and reliability

· Owned by Rave

Visiplex

· Uses a wireless base station to send audio alerts to public address systems, and visual alerts to digital signage

· Can send alerts through SMS text messages

· Sells various accessories, such as panic buttons, that can instantly produce an alert

Final checklist

In BCDR, the more preparation an organization takes before a crisis, the better. The following steps can ensure that emergency response teams don't miss anything when they choose a system:

  • Ask vendor references if they had any problems during planning, installation, training and post-cutover operations.
  • Confirm that the vendor offers electronic and hard-copy system documentation, and stores copies in multiple secure locations.
  • Ensure that the organization has an available server, power supply, backup power system and enough horsepower to handle the notification system and its database.
  • Certify that the company's network infrastructure has sufficient bandwidth to handle the bursts of traffic a mass notification system can generate during an emergency.
  • Create sufficient time to develop the database, user training, system management and system maintenance.
  • Incorporate the notification system in all disaster recovery exercises.
  • Regularly test mass notification system capabilities to prevent avoidable failures.

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