When an emergency occurs that threatens work safety, most organizations know they need to alert people as quickly as possible to keep them out of harm’s way. Many organizations have tools in place to let them do this, whether they’re alarms, sirens, strobes or another means to share audio and visual alerts. This helps organizations address the most immediate concern of raising awareness about an issue, but the more challenging question is: What comes next?
The problem is, once that initial alert goes out, different people have various responsibilities to carry out. While a single tool can be used to share information at the onset of a crisis, organizations often rely on multiple tools that specific groups need to accomplish their role as an emergency response plan. This can be inefficient and confusing, as people need to remember which tool to use and what tasks they are responsible for, resulting in precious seconds being lost. In a serious situation, those seconds can sometimes be the difference between safety and harm.
Safety technology continues to evolve to address these challenges, providing organizations with consolidated toolsets they can use to efficiently and effectively manage any crisis they encounter from start to finish. Mass notification systems, in particular, have grown from single-use paging solutions to include mobile and critical event management capabilities that organizations can use to automate their safety plans.
To fully leverage these capabilities, organizations need to look at the types of incidents that would be most disruptive to their operations or put their workers at the most risk. This could be an active shooter, chemical spill, severe weather or medical emergency. Once scenarios have been identified, organizational leaders next need to lay out how they want to respond to the event. Each step of this process can then be mapped out within a mass notification system under the umbrella of a scenario.
This is one of the most significant recent changes to mass notification. Organizations no longer need to create a host of messages and then search through them to find the right one; instead, they can group common messages together with other relevant assets so everything they need to manage a crisis is at their fingertips.
More Dynamic Messages
Building and sending messages is still the core function of a mass notification system, but recent developments have made those messages more dynamic. Organizations can create text and audio messages for each stage of an event, including initial alerts that let workers know there is a problem, follow-up messages that provide additional details, and “all clear” messages that signal the danger has passed and normal operations can resume. Each of these messages can be associated with specific groups, devices and areas, so the right notifications reach the right people.
For example, an initial alert may need to be broadcast throughout a facility but follow-up messages may only need to be sent to safety team members or members of the facilities staff. For large organizations, anotification may only need to be sent to a particular wing, floor or building rather than the entire organization. Mass notification systems offer the flexibility to direct messages to exactly where and who an organization needs to reach.
That dynamic flexibility extends to the ways organizations can trigger and send messages as well. The moment someone notices an emergency, they should be able to easily alert others. Mass notification systems can be connected to a wide range of physical and automated triggers to make sending a message as simple as possible. Physical panic buttons, mobile apps and wearable devices can make triggering notifications as easy as pushing a button and can be particularly helpful in organizations with large facilities where workers might find themselves alone and in need of assistance.
Monitored really simple syndication (RSS) and common alerting protocol (CAP) feeds as well as integrations with sensors that are part of the Internet of Things can send out notifications automatically when preestablished criteria are met. Landline phones can also be configured to monitor for when emergency numbers, such as 911, are called and send out an alert with information about which phone placed the call. This can greatly reduce the time it takes to get a message out to everyone and make people aware of a situation.
Manage Incidents as They Occur
When it comes to delivering messages, mass notification systems are helping organizations achieve the best possible reach by connecting to devices and systems already in place to disperse intrusive messages that grab people’s attention. No matter how much planning an organization does, if messages are not being seen or heard by their intended audience, all that planning is for naught.
Mass notification systems can send text and audio messages to desk phones, paging systems, speakers, digital signage, desktop computers and mobile devices. With the ability to also activate visual cues, such as flashing lights, mass notifications can get people to stop what they’re doing and take notice even in noisy and chaotic environments. The more channels an organization can leverage, the more likely it is that no one misses a critical message. This also helps organizations get more value out of existing technology investments by leveraging them for safety.
While these solutions help share reliable, consistent information across multiple channels, organizations can also benefit from using the same mass notification solution to actively manage safety incidents as they unfold. Messages can be sent inviting key safety team members to join a virtual collaboration space, such as Zoom, Slack, Microsoft Teams or Webex. This allows organizations to quickly gather people who can assess a situation and determine the best course of action.
Real-time insights can also be gathered from people in the midst of the emergency by sending out notifications that ask for a response from recipients. This can be a simple yes/no question to determine whether people are safe or have cleared a dangerous area. It can also be used to identify and send help to those in need of assistance.
In addition to virtual collaboration, team members can also access vital resources that can help them successfully manage an incident. Under the same umbrella that an organization builds its messages, it can also upload relevant assets that can provide context and aid in an emergency response. Floor plans, safety checklists, links to security camera feeds and more can all be grouped with relevant message templates and accessed from a web interface or mobile app from anywhere. The goal is to provide everything needed to manage an event in a single location to create a smooth and efficient response process.
Once an event has ended, organizations can review generated reports to identify the effectiveness of their response. This added level of insight can help organizations understand whether their notifications reached their intended targets and provide needed guidance for how to adjust response plans for future events.
Streamline Complicated Procedures
No safety technology is perfect, but the more comprehensive a solution is, the more effective it can be for organizations looking to streamline complicated procedures. Simplifying the management and deployment of emergency procedures by connecting disparate symptoms on the back end with a single tool can help reduce headaches and confusion, which can be costly during a crisis.
As safety needs change, organizations should make sure they understand what tools are available to help them and how they might have evolved since they last assessed them. The more organizations can do with a single tool, the less they need to worry about missing critical steps that impact people’s safety.
Paul Shain is president and CEO of Singlewire Software, which develops mass notification systems. He has led the strategic direction of the company since its founding in 2009. He was previously senior vice president at CDW and CEO of Berbee Information Networks.