Today’s leading Emergency Notification Systems have incredible capacity and the ability to message tens or even hundreds of thousands of recipients in seconds. Like any powerful tool, if not wielded carefully with careful planning and process integration, it can actually cause damage. With that in mind, I thought it would be helpful to review some simple best practices for emergency notifications.
Clearly Identify Yourself. Many modes of message delivery may not “natively” carry with them a clear indicator of the sender. For example, a text message will come from a short code that the recipient may not immediately identify with the sender. Often users are receiving messages from multiple notification systems with which they have some sort of affiliation. It is important to ensure your message clearly identifies the sender. To this end, Rave Alert provides several features that are used to customize your messages and ensure your institutional and public safety “branding” are always displayed, even when the sender may be in a stressful situation. Administrators should ensure that these settings are enforced for all outbound messages.
Clearly Identify the Location of the Incident. Recognizing that many situations are very fluid, the area of impact of incidents are still often known early on. When known, the location should be clearly stated in the message. Rave Alert supports message templates where messages can be crafted in advance and placeholders for entering the location can be filled in at the time of the event.
Clearly Identify the Expected Actions for the Recipient. Without a clear call to action, users will be confused, potentially exacerbating a bad situation. In some modes of message delivery such as SMS, where the character counts are restrictive, it may be appropriate to point the user to a web page where additional information is available. Rave Alert supports each mode having the amount of content appropriate for that mode. Many clients also use Rave Alert to drive dynamic web page content for follow up instructions.
Clean Data is Critical. Perhaps the most critical element of an emergency notification system is making sure the right people are in the target database. This involves discipline in both collecting and maintaining the data. Rave provides a number of tools to automate the integration of client data into Rave Alert, including batch loading tools with dozens of data cleanliness checks and warning flags, as well as real-time programmatic interface options. Rave also regularly checks phone numbers to ensure they are still active and addressable, providing clients with reports that can be used to go back and clean up source data. Ultimately, however, when a client chooses to take ownership for data collection the old axiom of garbage in – garbage out is true. Time spent before an emergency to ensure contact information is accurate will pay off when an incident strikes.
Aim Twice, Fire Once. Usually, when emergency notification systems are put to use, time is of the essence and stress is high. Proofreading matters. Make sure you pay attention to confirmations that show you what’s going out with your messages and to whom they are going. Take a deep calming breath and review before you push the final send button, as once that button is pressed messages are going out – and fast. At Rave, we are also strong proponents of de-centralizing message control and send responsibilities. Rave Alert provides almost limitless capabilities for defining granular roles and permissions so that users can only send message to those recipients and across those modes for which they are authorized. It is important that when time is short, the correct staff has the authorization to get a message out without having to waste time hunting down people for approvals; however, that de-centralization requires authorized administrators to exercise discipline in the use of a very powerful tool.
Prepare for Mishaps. Accidents happen. Whether a process misstep or new information that changes the “reality” you thought you understood just a few minutes ago; there will be instances where you need to correct a message that was sent out. Plan ahead for this. Does it make sense to send a clarification to the same target population again or was the error small enough that a clarification actually causes more confusion? Remember that people may read their messages out of order (e.g. waking up in the morning), so make sure your clarification does not require their knowledge and understanding of your previous message. Much like you create templates and define steps for various emergency scenarios, put some thought into how you issue corrections.
Stand Down and Recovery. Don’t forget to send out that all clear message, but beyond that think about keeping the broader constituency in the loop. Often, when the action dies down those directly involved in the incident response perform an after action analysis and evaluate lessons learned and how to improve next time. Some of those lessons learned may be appropriate for those that received notifications during the event. Did you decide to put up a new web page that you will use to keep interested parties up to date? Let everyone know. It’s probably not appropriate to send everyone a text message about the learnings, but including them in some other form of regular communication might be a great step towards ensuring everyone is better prepared for the next incident.