Campus-wide emergency notification comes up often in the security space. But campus isn't the only place where people need to be safe in the event of a crisis or disaster. Questions and answers about campus safety and security can also apply to business and employee security. With that in mind, this post will address the right questions to ask when you're building a notification system, and how the answers should shape your plan.
Beyond Mass Notification Systems
Mass notification and crisis management are overlapping concepts. Mass notification is one part of crisis management, but a large part, and the details of a crisis management plan may be shaped by the process of notification.
Today, there are tools that can help you kick off a notification process. So ask yourself: What do you have available to communicate with? If you're subscribed to a cloud-based system that can send out emails, texts and make phone calls, you have each of these avenues. But what if that cloud access is disrupted during a disaster event? Then you have no backup.
That's why Devi Momot, Twinstate's CEO, insists that every good crisis management plan includes multiple methods of mass notification or communication that may not overlap. You need backup options available. Still, those options need to be easy to access and use.
"The best system you could use in an emergency is something you'd use on a regular basis in your everyday life," says Momot.
"If I'm in the middle of a crisis and I need a piece of paper to tell me how to get access to a system (because I don't use that system every day), that will cause a delay."
When you're forming a crisis management plan, identify those systems you use as daily platforms. Consider electronic communications, phone trees, and driving plans. Ask yourself what would happen to your plan without the Internet. Without phones? Without typical communications, how do you get in touch with people who need to get in touch with other people? Discovering these answers is a true challenge, but one you need to take on to create a truly robust notification plan.
Every good crisis management plan includes multiple methods of mass notification. Click to tweet.
How wide is your influence? If your party supply store shuts down for an afternoon, that's likely OK. The consequences will be minimal, as most nearby shoppers aren't thinking about throwing parties during a disaster. But what if you're a business that others depend on? Or a university, where buildings are geographically widespread and you have thousands of students to keep safe? Then, the consequences of complete shutdown of your network are larger.
That's why, when you're making your emergency notification decisions, you can't make them on cost alone. You need to think about reliability, explains Momot.
"If a private network costs me 50 percent more per year, and no one else is using it, and I am an emergency services provider, or someone that supports emergency services, then I might want to pay that amount," Momot says. "But if you think, I could save us 50 percent per year if we go with this internet-based service, but it's not guaranteed, you need to reconsider."
Getting to the Next Level of Questioning
As disruptions continue to happen in small pockets, crisis management will become increasingly important. One thing you need to keep your eye on when developing a mass notification plan is the role of perspective. Someone in IT might have a completely different perspective than you do, and drawing out that perspective to understand the full scope of concerns is highly valuable to your process.
Momot gives an example:
"We did a major lift on business continuity plans and we had a team of the sysadmin, CFO, CIO, CEO, etc. and we identified all of our assets, both physical and data. We realized that we have multiple offices, and had never asked: What happens to us if our main building burns down? What survives? What applications and services? We discovered that less than 5 percent of those assets would survive," she says.
And so they had to adjust their plans.
"You need to be thinking about this and asking the questions. And if you can't, then you need to bring in external resources, pulling in people to assist with this conversation. Sometimes you really need that additional perspective," Momot says.
Consider creating a list of those questions, beginning with: Who are your team members? Write all of your ideas down. Who's responsible for identifying our next meeting location if something happens at location A? Try identifying at least four places or partner organizations where you could send your students or staff in the event of an emergency. They should have plenty of space and resources to host you.
"These are the things you need to pre-think, or pre-discuss," says Momot. "It could take five minutes or five hours. But having the plan makes you quicker to respond."
And how do you distribute your notification and crisis management plan? Momot suggests following the multiple methods of availability rule. The plan should be nice and easy to print out, but also encrypted and stored off premise, and also on your local server. If one type of access goes down, you still need to be able to get to the plan.