There are times when a PA system alone can’t reach all of your occupants. Regardless of your organization’s mission or size, redundant communication paths are one of your great allies in a crisis.
Augment your existing mass notification procedures with digital communication to ensure occupants have multiple opportunities to receive emergency messages.
Extend Your Reach
“As the number of communication channels increase, it’s becoming more complex to reach people,” says John Von Thaden, vice president and general manager of Federal Signal, a manufacturer of mass notification solutions.
Using digital messages offers several key benefits:
- “Digital communication allows you to share messages with people who are outside of the local environment, whether it’s those who are traveling, en route to your location, or off-site,” Von Thaden observes. For example, you may need to warn remote workers to avoid your property until a situation resolves.
- If you limit messages to only one sensory option, you could be missing those with hearing or visual limitations. Try a text message, update to digital signage, or use a computer program that can read pop-ups to make sure everyone can hear and see emergency communication.
- Flexible messaging solutions can restrict communication to one portion of your property without raising alarm bells for everyone. “There may be a situation like a burst pipe or exposed wiring that doesn’t present an immediate risk but you need to increase the awareness level about it or only want to notify a certain area of your property,” says Berkly Trumbo, national business manager of Siemens Industry, a provider of emergency communication systems.
- “People look for validation or confirmation from messages – they want to make sure it’s real and coming from a legitimate source,” Von Thaden notes. “This can be overcome by taking a layered approach. When people receive a text or see a warning on social media, they can immediately check another avenue and validate that information.”
Leverage Existing Solutions
As you expand your messaging options, look for existing solutions to save money and speed the upgrade. You can also calculate a cost percentage based on the number of occupants covered by the option per dollar spent to determine which package of message solutions is best.
“Work with HR staff to coordinate contact information,” says Von Thaden. “Most mass notification systems can interface with an active directory or LDAP (Lightweight Directory Access Protocol) solution so you can manage single sign-on through your existing infrastructure. This eliminates duplicating users and managing logins from multiple lists.”
You should also sync digital messages with your emergency management protocol by calling out key players from your general populace. Certain scenarios may dictate that emergency managers reach out to a particular contact or verify an action has been taken.
“You need to closely manage your rapid-response list – your floor wardens, crisis management team, and other stakeholders that are responsible for the wellbeing of your occupants,” advises Trumbo. “You need to frequently scrub that list and review chain of command.”
It’s also important to establish expectations for digital emergency messaging. “Communicate to your recipients the kinds of events they will be notified about so they’re not wondering whether you’re going to notify them about certain situations,” Von Thaden recommends.
For example, it may be advisable to warn occupants about severe weather, but you may only send messages about tornadoes and not hail.
Be clear whether any response is required from recipients. Some systems, for example, can automate message tracking so you know when a text or email has been opened or a call taken.
“Mass notification should be a layered approach,” Trumbo stresses. “It should scale to fit the needs of the organization, be redundant so there’s not a single point of failure, and be holistic so it can address multiple scenarios.”
Jennie Morton ([email protected]) is associate editor of BUILDINGS.