In the days after the terrible fires that scorched Gatlinburg and surrounding areas, my Google News and social media feeds have been filled with headlines like these:
- Officials: No text alerts during Gatlinburg evacuations because of ‘communications failure’
- NWS: Gatlinburg fire evacuation alert not sent to mobile
- Evacuation notices to Gatlinburg never sent to cellphones
Unfortunately, this is the risk associated with relying solely on text messaging or email for emergency mass notification during emergencies. Cellular network overload, power outages, Internet disruptions, and even landline failures mean critical notifications may not get to those who need it the most. Fortunately, local authorities around Gatlinburg were able to send evacuation warnings out via TV announcements, emergency sirens, and door-to-door canvassing.
However, for many organizations and facilities such as schools, colleges, universities, commercial offices, industrial parks, military bases, and hospitals, these types of notification methods are not typically available.
Instead, organizations and facilities rely solely on text and email. While these are typically very effective means of communication during an emergency, they shouldn’t be the only means. Also, opt-in rates for text and email are never 100%, leaving some people in the dark. While many schools and universities now require opt-in as part of the enrollment process, it still doesn't cover daily visitors on campuses such as parents or contractors.
Redundancy is a Good Thing
So, how can organizations address this issue? Answer: by using a multilayered, integrated mass notification system. This approach is the most effective and reliable way to reduce these risks and get critical information to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible as much as possible.
It doesn't mean you have to go out and purchase an entirely new system or expensive hardware. Technologies today can turn regular office phones, computer screens, digital signage, TVs, indoor speakers, PA systems and, of course, cell phones into alerting endpoints. This surprisingly affordable approach significantly increases the chance someone will see or hear an alert, and it’s been shown that people take notifications more seriously if they see it more than once. When it comes to emergency notification, redundancy is a good thing.
Use all Alerting Methods Available Now, Scale Later
Don’t leave your campus, organization, or facility vulnerable to system failures that are outside of your control during an emergency. Consider “layering up” your mass notification strategy by taking advantage of infrastructure you already have. You can always expand and add new alerting endpoints in the future if you need additional coverage that your current system and infrastructure can’t accommodate.
With so many additional alerting methods that can be easily—and affordably—leveraged by most organizations, there is no excuse for a communication failure due to downed cellular networks during an emergency. Begin integrating your existing assets now: the computer screen you're looking at now, the VoIP phone on your desk, the tablet you carry from meeting to meeting, these are all potential notification devices right at your fingertips.