emergency notification system

What is an emergency notification system?

An emergency notification system is an automated method of contacting a group of people within an organization and distributing important information during a crisis.

Following a disruption, an organization must determine the disruption's severity and potential impact, and then communicate with employees, management and other key stakeholders.

Emergency notification systems relay corporate communications in real time, through phone messages, texts and emails.

How does an emergency notification system work?

Organizations of any size can implement an emergency communications plan. It is especially vital if there are multiple locations, and if the organization manufactures hazardous materials or uses systems whose destruction could harm employees and surrounding communities.

An emergency notification system contains a database of names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and social media contacts. When activated, the system can send thousands of messages within minutes. It can also receive and process incoming messages from recipients about their status.

Systems can be in house (non-hosted) or managed services (hosted). Traditional emergency notification functions took place on site, with a database connected to the internet or telephone company to send out messages.

Diagram of a non-hosted emergency notification system.
A non-hosted emergency notification system uses an internal database to send and receive messages.

With a hosted system, users access those resources through a phone or the internet, launch the notification process, and remotely manage successive activities. Some vendors have started to incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning into emergency notification systems.

Diagram of a hosted notification system.
In a hosted emergency notification system, an outside provider launches and manages emergency communications.

Implementing an emergency notification system

When planning an emergency notification system, organizations must do the following:

  • Analyze anticipated requirements and determine if the number of employees is sufficient to justify the investment.
  • Check if existing technology features can be used in the system.
  • Confirm that the network infrastructure has sufficient bandwidth to handle such a system during an emergency.
  • Allow enough time to develop the database and conduct user training.
  • Determine how to integrate the system into a business continuity and disaster recovery plan.

It is crucial to keep emergency notification systems up to date. Systems that use a combination of voice, text and email notifications are more likely to be successful than single notification methods, as it's unlikely that an employee would change all their contact information at once. In addition, a cellphone network could go down during a disaster while an email system could still be functional.

The entire system should also be tested on a regular basis -- for example, using calls and message blasts.

While a call tree might have been a viable option in the past, it is no longer sustainable. A call tree is time-consuming, and if one person cannot be reached, the process can break down. It can still be used as a supplement to the notification system.

Pricing and vendors

Prices for a standalone emergency notification system can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Managed offerings are available for a monthly fee that is typically based on the number of contacts, features in use and network services needed. There might also be setup fees when the database is built, as well as activation fees when the system is used in a disaster. Monthly fees can run more than $25,000.

Vendors include AlertMedia, Everbridge, F24, OnSolve, Rave Mobile Safety, SwiftReach and Visiplex.

This was last updated in December 2022

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