Emergency Alerting: Making the Most Out Of Your Emergency Alerting System


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After tragic events such as Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 and the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, emergency preparedness has become an even greater priority. Determining the best method of communication is often the first task when setting up such a system, followed by identifying communications best practices to minimize uncertainty during the situation.

A multi-modal emergency notification system is often the most effective solution because it incorporates an institution’s existing modes of communications with newer technologies, such as mobile phones. Different audiences may prefer or require different modes of communication. For example, SMS notifications may be best suited for the general public, while first responders may need more comprehensive communications, such as voice alerts, conference bridging, or even video alerts.

Emergency communications best practices

Here are some simple steps that can make a significant difference when developing an effective emergency notification system:

  • Proper Terminology – Use unambiguous language that your audience will understand and utilize test messages to confirm that messages are clear.
  • Inbound notification – Many institutions implement an information web site, and/or a toll-free information line to avoid a cluster of inbound requests during an emergency.
  • Establish detailed approval processes – Define ownership and processes for issuing alerts. At a minimum establish principal alert sender(s) who will oversee issuing alerts and provide extensive training. Assign roles and responsibilities for all involved in the process and a clear chain of authority.
  • Frequency and level of communication – Define how often information will be distributed (every 30 minutes, only when new information is available, etc) and clearly communicate this to your audiences.
  • Templates for ease of use – Pre-created messaging templates can take much of the “fog of war” out of an incident. A useful list of emergency message templates is available online from Margolis-Healy Consulting at: www.margolis-healy.com.

Communicating your communications

A clearly defined plan is useless unless everyone involved knows about it. Communicating your plan will require a marketing effort but will pay off in the long run. Unfortunately, the risks facing us are complex and require new approaches to emergency preparedness and emergency management. While it’s obviously impossible to foresee every event that might occur, it is entirely possible to build a practice that protects and prepares us for many of the trials that await us.

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