Emergency Notification System Overview
Emergency notification systems are becoming increasingly import in today’s day and age. Our goal is to provide a complete guide to emergency notification systems to help organizations understand what they are, how they are used, what the benefits of an emergency notification are, and lastly the best way to implement them in your organization. Whether you are a school, business, non-profit organization, or healthcare facility, you should consider how a mass notification system can be used as part of your emergency planning.
What Is An Emergency Notification System?
An emergency notification system is typically a hardware and software solution used to help organizations quickly and easily send notification (or alerts) to all their users during a crisis.
The goal is to immediately communicate with employees, teachers, or students as soon as an alert is initiated, providing them with the maximum amount of time to respond. This is especially important in situations where seconds count when responding to an emergency situation. This can help save lives and prevent injuries.
How Are Notifications Initiated?
Depending on the specific type of emergency notification system used, notification are initiated in different ways. They typically include:
- desktop applications
- web based applications
- mobile applications
- physical panic buttons
- phone systems
- fire alarms
- access control systems
- security systems
When using a system like Vigilance Software, there are typically a predefined list of notifications set up in the system for the users. For example on the mobile application, when you tap the send alert button, it will provide you with a list of alert types. You would select the alert type, such as active shooter, medial assistance, building lock down, fire, etc. You are also giving an option to provide additional information in a text area, or you can just click send the notification. The web based clients and the desktop clients work in a similar manner as the mobile app.
Location Details Of the Alerts
Providing location details for the alert is very important. The people receiving the mass notification need to know where the alert was sent from, when it was sent, who sent the notification. This critical information helps people know how best to respond to the alert. Depending on where it was sent, no action may need to be taken at all. It could more informational related to an area of a campus or a different business location.
How Are Notifications Received?
Notifications can be received in many different forms depending on how robust the system is. Typically notifications are received using one or more of the following:
- sms text messages
- emails messages
- automated robocalls
- mobile push notifications
- Desktop alerts
- CAP compliant digital signage
- Outdoor speaker systems
- Overhead intercom systems
- SIP compliant phone systems
- Central monitoring
How is the Emergency Alert System Different?
An Emergency Notification System is NOT the same as the Emergency Alert System EAS we all grew up with. The phase “This is a test. This station is conducting a test of the Emergency Broadcasting System. This is only a test . . . ” may bring back a lot of memories.
What Is The Emergency Alert System
According the FCC, The Emergency Alert System is a national public warning system that requires television and radio broadcasters, cable tv systems, wireless cable, satellite digital audio radio service providers, direct broadcast satellite service providers and wireline video service providers to offer to the President, the communications capability to address the American public during a national emergency. The system can also be used by state and local authorities to deliver important emergency information such as AMBER alerts and emergency weather information targeted to a specific area. This is a government program where both FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) and the FCC (Federal Communications Commission) are involved.
Sometimes you will hear emergency notification systems referred to as being one of the following. For the most part many of the names are interchangeable although some may have a different connotation as to their intended use. It may not always be an emergency situation, but the fact remains that the goal is to communicate with a large group of people quickly and easily.
- Mass Notification System
- Mass Communication System
- Emergency Notification Software
- Emergency Alert System
- Emergency Communication System
- Emergency Mass Communication System
- Emergency Messaging system
As mentioned previously, the emergency alert system is specific to FEMA and the FCC and is NOT considered a commercial system for use by schools and businesses, but is instead part of the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS), the nation’s alert and warning infrastructure.
Mass Notification Systems are not used only for emergencies. There are times when informational type notifications need to be sent, but would not be considered a crisis. Some emergency notification systems, such as Vigilance Software, have the ability to perform as a mass notification system as well because of the flexible and custom alerts that can be created.
Reasons for a Notification System
When organizations start to consider whether or not a mass notification platform might be needed, it is usually a major event like an active shooter that prompts the discussion. Once they dig a little deeper it is easy for them to see the many scenarios in which a emergency system can be used.
- Medical Response
- Workplace Violence
- Active Shooter Response
- Security Response
- Panic Buttons
- Facilities Lock down
- Production Issues
- Business Continuity Issues
- Sensor Monitoring
- Administration Alerts
- Emergency Alerts
- Information Alerts
How emergency notification systems work
There are several components to an emergency notification system like Vigilance Software to make everything work smoothly when you need it. Here are the different items needed to make your emergency notification system work.
A site represents the physical location of your organization. For a school this may be a campus, or for a business it would represent the address where you business is located. Depending on the size of your organization, you may have several sites. For a school it might represent multiple campuses in different cities or towns. For a business it may represent a corporate office in a different location than a distribution or manufacturing facility.
For each site you have set up, you need to break it down into more specific locations. An example for a school would be the front office, the gymnasium, athletic fields, principal’s office, etc. A business may be broken down in the locations such as reception, break room, accounting department, etc.
Some organizations will be very detailed and identify each office or room as a location. Other organizations will only create one or two locations. I really depends on the layout and level of detail desired by the organizations.
Emergency notifications are typically designed to go to large numbers of people. That is why you will often times here emergency notification systems called mass notification systems or mass alert systems. Everyone you want to be able to send or receive an alert on your system will need to be set up as a user. With better designed systems, you can be very detailed as to what abilities each user will have on the system. You may want certain users to be able receive notifications, but not have permission to send notification or alerts.
Groups are used to organize your users and is often done based on the geographic location, department or role within the company. For example a user may be grouped in the New York office or Boston office. Departments such as accounting may be put into a specific group. Another common use for groups is for medical response teams. Many businesses will have and internal emergency response team for first aid or workplace injuries. They are usually trained in first aid and CPR. In the event a user sends a medical assistance alert, everyone that is part of the emergency response team would receive the notification letting the know they would need to go to the location and assist with the medical situation.
Each organization decides which types of alerts and notifications make senses for them to send. Having a system that is flexible and allows for custom alert notifications is important. There are common alerts that almost all organizations will want to send such as active shooter, medical assistance, information alerts, management needed. Having the ability to send one time custom alerts is important to consider as well. It is best to have as many predefined notifications as possible, but flexibility needs to be considered too.
While notification systems can be used as a stand-alone platform to send and receive alerts, their real strength comes in their ability to integrate with existing communications, paging, security, and life safety systems. Typical integrations include access control systems such as S2, security panels which have zones and automatically contact a centralized monitoring company that will take appropriate action, SIP based phone systems, overhead paging or public address systems that can play either prerecorded messages or dynamic messages, and digital signage.
Once alerts are created, it is time to decide what actions you want to take place for the alert. Alert actions are stack-able, meaning that multiple actions can take place when an alert is initiated. For example a building lock down alert could take the following actions: Users notified (desktop alert, mobile notification, email, text), strobe light activated, unsecured doors locked through the access control system, overhead paging audio message played alerting users of the building lock down. The great thing is once these action are defined for the alert type, they just happen automatically when the alert is initiated.
Things to consider when evaluating notification systems.
Things to consider when looking at different emergency notification systems
How to successfully implement an emergency notification system
Installing this type of systems can be a significant undertaking depending on the size of the organization. Here a few things we have seen that make it a smoother and more successful process.
See how emergency notification systems have been used by organizations of all sizes
Small Non Profit
Multi Location Law Office
Manufacturing and Distribution Center