This article originally appeared in the June 2022 issue of Security Business magazine. When sharing, don’t forget to mention Security Business magazine on LinkedIn and @SecBusinessMag on Twitter.
Safety technology continues to evolve to meet the demands of organizations looking to fulfill their duty of care. New tools may solve niche problems, but it is important not to overlook time-tested solutions that offer more features than many might be aware.
Mass notification systems are a prime example: While most may think of mass notification as a way to broadcast audio messages to different types of devices, a growing list of integrations and features means that while the name has remained the same, the capabilities have grown beyond this traditional use-case.
Even organizations that already own mass notification may not realize what is fully available to them. It is important for integrators to emphasize that instead of single-use solutions, these systems have become multi-functional to offer more comprehensive methods for handling every aspect of an emergency situation. It is important to understand how these developments can enhance existing processes and procedures so organizations can do everything in their power to provide safe environments that keep people informed about potentially dangerous events.
Audio broadcasts continue to be the core function for mass notification, but organizations are realizing that to reach everyone, they need to leverage every communication channel at their disposal, and that during an emergency, simply sending out a message is not enough to keep everyone safe.
Mass notification systems are addressing these two issues with more ways to send messages and more tools that help organizations handle a crisis from start to finish.
Mass notification integrations have expanded beyond paging and phone systems to help leverage the technology most organizations already have in place. This helps extend the reach of emergency messages, and it helps organizations get more value out of existing investments. The more flexibility a system offers, the less an organization needs to worry about spending more resources on new technology that can work with it.
These integrations include IP speakers, digital signage, desktop computers and mobile devices for delivering messages; as well as incorporating panic buttons, IoT devices, wearable devices, and mobile apps for triggering a message.
Notifications can also be sent with text, audio, and visual cues which helps ensure messages cannot be ignored when they are delivered. This can also help speed up the time it takes people to respond to an incident as they receive alerts with more immediacy and can begin following instructions included in a message.
Event and Incident Management
Getting messages out is only half the battle, which is why many mass notification systems have added critical event management features. While these capabilities can vary depending on the vendor, the basic goal is to offer organizations more tools to handle a crisis without needing to invest in additional solutions.
Too often, organizations still rely on binders to house their emergency response plans. While this can mean response plans are thorough, those binders live in someone’s office or on a shelf, meaning accessibility is limited. An incident can occur anytime, anywhere, and organizations need to be prepared to respond the moment someone notices something goes wrong. Having to go and find a binder or even be at a specific computer workstation offers limited practical usability in the moment.
New incident management features available within mass notification systems take those binders and make them actionable. Every step and procedure can be uploaded and accessed from any desktop or mobile device that has access to the internet. This offers an immediate and flexible way to begin managing an emergency.
This can often begin with organization grouping related notifications under the umbrella of a scenario. For example, all their messages for an active shooter situation, including the initial alert, follow up details, and the “all clear” message can be sequenced together. This saves system administrators time because they do not need to search through all of the messages to find the ones they need for that incident, and administrators are less likely to miss a critical step because every step of their emergency response plan is laid out for them in the system.
Some systems also offer the option of uploading vital resources ahead of time, like safety checklists, floor plans, and links to security camera feeds, to help administrators have every tool they need at their fingertips. Additional information can also be uploaded as an event unfolds, like a description or photo of an intruder, to provide necessary context to those responding to a situation.
Integrations with collaboration tools like Webex, Microsoft Teams, and Slack offer a quick and easy way to further manage events and coordinate a response. Organizations can segment messages to be sent to different groups, allowing messages to be sent throughout an organization while simultaneously sending messages to select security team members with an invite to join a virtual conference space. This helps gather key stakeholders who can provide insight into the event taking place and determine the best course of action for keeping everyone safe and resolving the incident.
Post-Event Reporting and Daily Operations
Once an event is over, reporting features can provide a deeper level of understanding for organizations that want to know just how effective their response was. Mass notification systems can deliver details on how successful an organization was at delivering messages so potential issues can be identified and addressed. These reports can provide valuable direction for organizations looking for ways to evolve their emergency response plans.
Most organizations implement mass notification tools to help with safety and security, but more and more organizations are finding value by also using them to assist with daily operations. Schools use it to manage their bell schedules, hospitals use it to announce Code Blue events, and manufacturing facilities use it to help stop production lines.
With the ability to schedule messages and automate procedures with integrated technology, organizations are able to save time and reduce workloads for menial and repetitive tasks that would otherwise need to be done manually. IT teams can use it for outages, HR can use it for organization announcements, and facilities teams can use it to send alerts about maintenance issues. This also helps familiarize people with the mass notification system, as people outside of security teams can find ways to leverage it and use it more regularly – so when an emergency does occur, people know how to navigate and effectively use the system to help resolve a crisis.
Paul Shain is president and CEO of Singlewire Software, developers of InformaCast mass notification system. Request more info about the company at www.securityinfowatch.com/12305817.