Mass notification- distressing technology?

Technological development is, at times, so rapid that it defines the needs of the users, rather than the other way around.

There are several different technical solutions that allow for mass notification (quick and relatively simultaneous notification of big groups by using mobile technology).  This technology can be helpful when used correctly. Inappropriate usage  may result in the opposite effect. The technology is accessible, but do we have sufficient knowledge about how to use it and for what purpose?

In this article, I will present what I believe you should be aware of before purchasing and implementing a mass notification solution. This list is in no way exhaustive but at the very least, a starting point.

What is the solution for?

Let’s begin with assessing the need. What situations can reasonably be assumed to occur or befall our business that triggers the need for mass notification? What is it about these situations that make current warning arrangements - like fire alarms, obsolete? 

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How can we use the solution- and what will we achieve?

Secondly it would be beneficial to do an assessment of what needs, requirements and expectations we have for the implementation based on:

Effect

Define what desired actions the mass notification should trigger. Consider also if the alarm could produce unwanted consequences. Be aware that a mass notification could hinder the work of the emergency services, aid authorities or even your own business. It could also draw attention to the wrong people and put them at risk, rather than secure their safety.  

Target group

  • Be conscious of how you limit your target group. Geographical or organisational limits are to be expected, but this depends of course on the situation. Keep in mind that the target group for the mass notification may need advance knowledge and training to respond satisfactorily.
  • Precision in the selection of the target group may be crucial in order to obtain the desired effect. Do we only wish to reach our own people, or should we aim wider.? A target group that overlaps with other target groups could risk receiving contradictory notifications. Consider also if someone should be excluded from the mass notifications.
  • A large target group requires more notification time than a small one, where everyone will be notified more or less at the same time. It’s important to consider the time frame of a mass notification and what consequences it will have on the desired effect.

Message

  • What should the message be in the mass notification, and who will be in charge of it?
  • Quality and precision are essential in obtaining the desired effect. What can be the consequence of a faulty or deficient message?
  • Will the message always be identical? Is it a message that can be predefined or are different messages and/or situation specific information necessary?

Time

  • How quickly must the mass notification be implemented to achieve the desired effect, and for the message to still be relevant when it has reached all the recipients?
  • When should the mass notification be implemented, what does it trigger and who can decide if it should be instigated? Try to define objective and unambiguous criteria that can be used when concrete assessment of the situation is not necessary. This will have consequences for how we organise a mass notification.
  • When you have decided who will implement the mass notification and how this will be done, it will also be possible to estimate the time frame between the first indication that something is fishy until the notification is sent and received. Consider if this is fast enough.

Make scenarios

Finally, you should make an assessment of which factors are the most important to secure the desired effect of the mass notification, using different scenarios: be it speed, volume, marksmanship or quality of information.

Can you give mass notice with adequate volume, marksmanship and quality quickly enough to reach the desired effect- thus allowing the recipients to make use of it? This last question is especially relevant in the critical stage of sudden and unwanted events, with unpredictable and situation specific proceedings, like life threatening violence.

The technology is available. The question is if the organisation is able to assess the possibilities against the needs at a satisfactory level.

Do we acquire a mass notification system to solve a problem- or just to show that we are doing something

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By Jørn-Ivar Hellesnes

Jørn-Ivar is partner at One World AS. He has more than 20 years experience as leader, advisor and project manager in the Norwegian Army, public services and private sector. Former employers include the Norwegian Army, The National Emergency Planning College, Teleplan and Statoil. Jørn-Ivar is a qualified Quality System Manager and Accredited Quality Lead Auditor. He has key qualifications in the areas of project management, quality and risk management, management systems, emergency planning and preparedness, crisis management and training and exercises.

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