According to a 2005 Gartner report, by year-end 2007, 75 percent of the Global 2000 will have emergency notification systems in place for employee communications in the event of a crisis. With an emergency notification system you can accurately, rapidly, and securely distribute critical information, in real time and simultaneously, to mission-critical staff. As the acceptable tolerance level of down time continues to decline, response times must follow.
What are emergency notification and escalation systems?
Basically, it’s an automated replacement for your manual call tree that allows for multiple modality communications. These systems incorporate escalation capabilities such as device-to-device and user-to-user and communications can be based on the time of day and day of the week. These systems also offer a number of options that enhance your ability to notify and communicate to staff. These options range from polling capabilities to the delivery of secure messages.
Why choose an automated emergency notification and escalation systems?
Communication, communication, and communication – Your ability to coordinate the right resources with the right skills to respond will help to greatly reduce your recovery times.
Call tree automation – You remove the human factor; you are no longer dependant on one individual to make the next call to notify the rest of or a portion of the call tree. You have essentially removed your weakest link. Goodbye
Consistent message – This also allows for a consistent message to be sent to each employee. If you ever played the game where you sit in a circle with a bunch of friends and one person whispers a statement to the next person, by the time the statement gets back to the original person, it has usually morphed into something completed different. This is eliminated with an emergency notification and escalation system.
Inform employees – You have the ability to simultaneously notify employees and alert or inform them to adverse conditions.
Crisis management – This helps manage the event by providing a mass method of communication to staff.
Where Do You Start?Once you’ve decided an automated emergency notification and escalation systems is right for you, the selection process begins. With scores of companies (and more on the way) providing this service, how do you know which one is best for you? The following activities will help with the selection process:
- Establish requirements – Do this first! Never let the applications drive your requirements; understand what you need and what you need to be accomplished.
- Create a matrix – Once the requirements have been established, place them into a matrix and weight variables. This provides you a guide for the evaluation and selection process.
- Engage other areas of your organization – Input form other areas can help set additional requirements and offset cost by allowing them use of the system. These areas can include risk management, engineering and building services, property management, and safety and security.
- Establish a vendor pool – Base your vendor pool on your requirements and the vendor’s ability to meet them. Don’t just look at two or three vendors, I recommend at least five. This provides a good sampling of the market and options available.
- Get a demo – Once you have your vendor pool it’s time to bring them onsite for a demo. When a vendor performs a demo, have them use your internal devices (cell, work phone, e-mail, etc.). This allows you to see how your infrastructure will respond to their system. Have the activation of the system performed through the Internet and using the phone activation capability (live operator).
- Understand the system – Review where the system will be located. Understand the capacity of the system and its ability to accommodate your growth. Review the data and physical security of the system. Is the system hosted? I recommend if you invest in a system that it be hosted. Do you require a dedicated system or can a shared system support your needs?
- Review the company – How long have they been in business? What is the main focus of the company? What are future offerings and direction of the company? What is their client base? What is the product support?
- Check references – Ask about the implementation process, use of system, ongoing support, and if they have had any down time or outages. Most companies have a standard list of questions to ask when checking references on a vendor.
- Negotiate the contract – Keep your contract between 12 and 36 months. This allows for multiple-year discounts. Understand the pricing model and any additional cost associated with the implementation such as one-time set-up fees and overages.
What should you look for in an emergency notification and escalation system? The following list of features provides a sample of what is available in the marketplace. Vendors may reference the same functionality or capability by a different name.
- Ease of use – Make sure the system is easy to use from message creation to retrieval to system activation. The last thing you want is to try to remember how to use a cumbersome system during an actual event.
- Enterprise integration – Assure the system integrates with your current authorized source for information/data (i.e. HR system, BC/DR planning tool, spreadsheet, exchange, notes, etc.). Establish a timeframe to have the system updated on a regular basis.
- Toll-free activation – The ability to activate or access the system through an "800" number with a live operator. This is helpful if no access to the Internet is available. Make sure this is available 24/7/365.
- Multiple-device notification – Make sure the system supports your required communication devices (cell phone, home phone, pager, e-mail, PDA, Blackberry, fax, work phone, etc.).
- Text-to-speech (TTS) – This converts typed message to speech.
- PIN capabilities/user authentication – This allows for the delivery of secure message by requiring a PIN number to receive the sent message.
- Conference call bridging – The ability to send a message and ask individuals to press a key and immediately be joined to a conference call already in progress. Some vendors provide this capability in-house and others outsource to a third party.
- Answering machine aware – The system understands that it has reached an answering machine or voicemail system and will leave a message that requires the user to call in to retrieve the message from the system. This helps protect the confidentiality of the sent message.
- Real-time message acknowledgement – This is accomplished by utilizing e-mail, Web, phone, two-way pager, call back number, or blackberry device.
- Polling capabilities – Allows you to poll staff as to their condition or state of readiness.
- Position filling – The ability to send a message to multiple users to request a predefined number of responses is met.
- Notification attachments (e-mail) – This is adding a file to a sent message. It could include weather maps, driving directions, etc.
- E-mail prioritization – E-mails are sent at the desired level.
- Prescheduled/recurring notifications – These allow for messages to be sent at a schedule time and/or date.
- Scenario activation – Predefined scenarios can save time by having a set group to respond to the event.
- Group management capabilities – These allow for the management of a subset of users. Different areas of the organization can utilize the system without seeing other parts of the organization’s information.
- Employee self administration – This works best for smaller organizations (50 or less) and allows employees to update personal information within the system as opposed to a feed from a single authorized source of data.
- Remote message recording – This is the ability to have the system call a user and have them record a message for delivery. This may provide a comfort level during an event to have the message come from a known figure within the organization.
- Supports multiple time zones – This supports national and multination organizations. Multiple time zones can present a problem within a single state (i.e. Florida, Nebraska).
- International dialing – This supports national and multination organizations.
- Multilanguage support – This supports national and multination organizations.
- 24/7/365 technical support – Your ability to get support any time is critical.
- Reports – This is the ability to produce and download real-time reports. Reports may include: response rates, users, configured and non-configured devices, time of responses, etc.
Chris Gay, CBCP, is the director of disaster recovery/systems continuity management for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida. Gay is responsible for the maintenance and preservation of the company’s disaster recovery program to ensure mission critical business functions are available and protected in an adverse event.
"Appeared in DRJ's Winter 2007 Issue"