Emergency Notification System Overview

Emergency notification systems are becoming increasingly important in today’s day and age. Our goal is to provide a complete guide to emergency notification emergency notification system overivewsystems 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, a non-profit organization, or a healthcare facility, you should consider how an emergency notification system can be used as part of your mass notification plan. 

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 Do Emergency Notification Systems Send Alerts?

There are a variety of ways to send alerts from and emergency notification system. Some of it will depend on the specific emergency notification software your organization uses. Below are some common means for 

  • Desktop Applications
    • Consider whether you need an emergency notification software platform that will run on both Mac and Windows. Vigilance Software is designed to run on both. Ease of use and easy access are key things to consider. You want a system where the ability to send an alert is always at your fingertips.
  • Web-Based Applications
    • Web-based applications are important because they allow you to send alerts from a computer that may not have a desktop application installed. All that is required is access to a browser where you can log in, set the location you need to send the alert from, and choose the type of alert.
  • Mobile Applications
    • Having a mobile application to send emergency notification alerts provides tremendous flexibility. Most people have their mobile phones with them all the time, which means they have the ability to send an alert at any moment. 
  • Physical Panic Buttons
    • Having an emergency notification system can turn a physical panic button into a smart, custom alert system. Typically when a panic button is pushed, a monitoring company sees that a panic button has been pushed because it is integrated with their security or alarm system. The monitoring company will then call the local police to report the panic button is pushed. Nothing else happens until the police arrive which can sometimes take 10 minutes or more. If the panic button is integrated with an emergency notification system, not only is the monitoring company notified, but you can have your own custom group of users notified immediately, instead of just waiting 10 minutes for the police.  
  • Phone Systems
    • Phone systems that are integrated into an emergency notification system can initiate alerts by dialing an extension to trigger an alert
  • Fire Alarms
    • An emergency notification system can help extend your fire alarm system by sending alerts to a specific group of people as a secondary action when a fire alarm has gone off. The fire alarm continues to function in its primary role and nothing changes with that. An emergency notification system can be used to enhance and broaden the scope of the alerts sent. This can be helpful when an organization has multiple facilities spread out across a large geographic area.
  • Access Control Systems
    • Access control systems can be integrated into an emergency notification system so when an access alarm is initiated, a breach alert can be sent.
  • Security Systems
    • A security system alarm can be used to trigger an alert on an emergency notification system as well. By default, most security systems are designed to notify a monitoring company, who will, in turn, contact the police. When integrated with an emergency notification system, an alert will simultaneously be sent to your defined users in addition to the monitoring company.   
  • Sensors
    • There are numerous types of sensors such as temperature sensors, vape detectors, air quality sensors, etc. Multi-sensors such as the Halo smart sensor are growing in popularity. All these sensors can be integrated into an emergency notification system to send an alert notification when sensor thresholds are crossed. 

When using a system like Vigilance Software for emergency notifications, there is 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, medical assistance, building lockdown, 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 desktop clients work in a similar manner as the mobile app.

Emergency Notification Systems Location Details for Alerts

Providing location detail when sending an emergency alert is very important. The users receiving the alerts need to know where the alert was sent from, when it was sent, and who sent the alert.

Locations for an emergency notification system can be as granular as a particular room, in a specific building on campus, or can be as high level as a city or region. This critical information helps people know how best to respond to the alert. Depending on where the alert was sent from, and their current location, a user may not need to take action at all, or they may need to take immediate action. Depending on the situation and the type of alert, some users may be part of an administrative or management group that receives alerts for all locations.

How Are Emergency Notification System Alerts Received?

Emergency notification system alerts can be received in many different ways. Much of it depends on how robust the system is. The goal of any emergency notification system is all about communication. When a critical event happens you need to inform the right people, and it needs to happen immediately. Sometimes that communication is mass communication and sometimes it is to few selected people. Having 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 

Other names for emergency notification systems

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 an emergency system can be used.

  • Medical Response
  • Workplace Violence
  • Active Shooter Response
  • Security Response
  • Panic Buttons
  • Facilities Lockdown
  • Fires
  • 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 your 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 of a location in a school would be the front office, the gymnasium, athletic fields, the principal’s office, etc. A business may be broken down in 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. It 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 to receive notifications, but not have permission to send notification or alerts.


Groups are used to organize your users and are 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 an 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 them 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 shooters, 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.  

System Actions

Once alerts are created, it is time to decide what actions you want to take place for the alert. Alert actions are stackable, meaning that multiple actions can take place when an alert is initiated. For example, a building lockdown 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 lockdown. The great thing is once these activities 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 system 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

Global Retailer