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5 Ways To Improve Your Emergency Mass Notification System

Author: Troy Harper

Copyright: Copyright 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2017-07-28
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As law enforcement, firefighters, EMS response and medical professionals know all too well, crises and unexpected interruptions are guaranteed to happen. The question isn’t “if” - but “when.”

When a crisis happens, leaders need a way to rapidly communicate and collaborate with a broad range of stakeholders through various delivery methods, including voice, text, email, RSS feeds, mobile app alerts and social media.

Emergency response teams, public safety, and law enforcement organizations are increasingly turning to emergency mass notification systems. But simply deploying a mass notification system does not by default mean you are fully maximizing the benefits it can deliver. Here are five key ways that your organization can improve the effectiveness and ROI of notifications and alerts.

1: Improve Response Rates
Simply digitally confirming the delivery and acceptance of a message doesn’t guarantee that you will get the active response needed from the recipients. The term response rate refers to how many targeted recipients successfully receive a notification and then respond appropriately. One way to improve response rates and consequently increase the success of your notification solution includes constructing all messages the same way so that people can quickly read, interpret and understand the outline of the message and any action items that are included. Also, templates should be sure to include who, what, when, and where as well as the purpose of the notification and the source (i.e. the author of the notification), in case further communication is necessary.

2: Increase Insight Velocity
One of the most powerful tools for increasing the speed of information sharing is an automated notification system. These systems have been around for many years and have become an organizational standard for communicating. Whether you’re trying to get a message to employees, government agencies, first responders, or any other key groups of individuals, automated notification is a crucial means for achieving insight velocity.

An automated notification system speeds important message delivery to its users by removing manual elements of the process and triggering notifications and alerts based on predefined criteria. Automating notifications increases insight velocity so that those you are trying to reach - as well as decision makers - rapidly gain access to the insights they need to act intelligently during emergency and crisis events.

3: Coordinate Messaging During Broad Events
In the case of large regional events where there is a need for coordination, it’s easy to over-communicate and confuse or desensitize your recipients. Too many similar messages can overwhelm, particularly when they come from a variety of sources. Planning ahead with the agencies and law enforcement groups who have responsibility for launching various types of notifications to reduce overlaps and conflicting messages is critical. By coordinating and defining the correct authorities for each situation, you’ll make your message more understandable and draw better responses.

Consider who will prepare and launch notifications for various departments or units. If the issue is an emergency, the incident commander or operations center designee may act as the administrator of communications. Make the same consideration when deciding who should receive the results or responses to the notification. This may be an entirely different individual or group than those who initiated the alert in the first place. Timely distribution of information gathered from the responses can allow those receiving the information to take action quickly. Automated distribution of reporting from any given notification is something that should be defined and implemented as part of the notification solution.

4: Balance Consistency with Customization
Use a notification solution that allows you to customize the notification to meet your requirements and your culture. Every organization uses notification for its own reasons  and desired outcomes. For some, it’s just in case of emergency, whereas others use notification as a multi-purpose communication tool that may be adapted by various departments and units as a tool for information sharing. This requires both consistency and differentiation of messages to be successful.

Always follow the same pattern when constructing notifications, even though your messages may be very different. Use consistent introductions; if you decide to verify a recipient’s identity before delivering the message, then always verify your recipients. And use consistent directions. If the direction for one team is to “press one to hear your message,” or “press two to join a conference bridge,” a better response is garnered if those directions are consistent throughout the organization.

5: Test Your Methods
It’s important to train the initiators that will be creating and launching notifications. Initiators need to thoroughly understand what policies and requirements you’ve defined to ensure consistency. In addition to initiators, train those who will receive the notifications, the recipients. Notification systems may seem simple, and in today’s environments people are becoming more accustomed to automated calls, emails and texts. Yet without proper training, your recipients may not understand the importance of the alert and might not be consistent in their response.

Using a notification system is a good way to reduce risk. Testing the system is the key to getting a reliable response in a time of crisis. When testing, don’t always target the same devices (i.e., work phones, work emails, etc.). Crises don’t usually happen at convenient times, so run tests at unexpected times, and target devices that are not typically tested, such as home phones, personal cell phones, etc.

Encourage participation by showing people the importance of their response. Reporting and measuring is critical to both campaigns and the long-term success of your notification solution. Watch for specific patterns of participation; some people may never answer, or only before or after a certain time. Lack of response may indicate users are unavailable or that they don’t feel comfortable with the system. With good reporting, you can target those users and provide counseling and training to make them more comfortable with the system.

Emergency mass notification systems have become a core tool for many law enforcement, fire, emergency management and emergency response professionals, but there is always an opportunity to improve the value of the system to all stakeholders. You can plan for the unexpected, but if you don’t practice, you will never overcome the unknown challenges.


Troy Harper is the General Manager for OnSolve, a leading provider of global cloud-based communication and collaboration tools. He joined the company in 2013 after serving in the United State Air Force and as a public safety official in local government. Troy served as the Emergency Services Director for Flagler County Florida, one of the fastest growing communities in the nation, where he managed 9-1-1, public safety communications, emergency management and multi-jurisdiction planning, response and recovery activities.  Troy managed twelve major federal disaster declarations and holds numerous national certifications. Troy currently has oversight of the CodeRED product for OnSolve. For more information on OnSolve, see



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