We’re not talking about public service information. We’re talking about emergency “call out” systems; the automated services purchased by companies to enable contact with a pre-determined group (or groups) of people.
These systems are intended replace the use of call trees, speed up the notification process and allow details of responses to be recorded and seen, often in real time. They can offer a clever way to minimse the notification workload, and ensure a uniform message is delivered to nominated recipients at speed.
Here we provide links to some of the better known systems and highlight some considerations you may want to make as you compare emergency notification services.
Before you start looking at systems, you should take time to note exactly what you need and exactly what you want (the first list will be a lot shorter than the second!). Map out what you want to achieve from your call out system and look for one that matches what you need. We’ve seen firms who’ve found a system and then tried to fit their response into it: remember you’re paying a significant amount of money, so it needs to work for you, not the supplier.
Here are some considerations you might include in your brainstorming:
Activation. How do you want to activate the notification? Do you want to send typed messages only? Would you like to send voice messages? Do you need a combination? Will you pre-record all messages or have a policy that each message will be recorded for the individual incident? Who needs to be authorised to send a message? Do they need to be able to do it in the middle of the night? Will they always have the same tools available to launch the message? Many systems offer a web-based callout option, with some also offering one that you can launch from a phone, with fewer still enabling a further option of being able to ring a call centre so they do it for you if none of the other methods are open to you. Think about the usual circumstances around those people who will have to launch the notification and ensure you’re making it easy for them.
Contact methods. How do you need to be able to contact people? Do they all have mobile phones? Do they all have landlines? Do they take calls on their home landlines? Do they have email? How often do they sit at their desks and check landline and email messages? Are they responsive to sms over voice calls? You know your targets better than any supplier, so you need to decide this. Suppliers often offer delivery by a variety of services, but you’ll need to check that your combination of, for example, sms, voice message to landlines and mobiles, emails, pager messages and blackberry PIN to PIN is covered by the one you choose.
Customised Caller ID. It’s a small point, but it has huge impact… will your recipients answer a call if they don’t know where it’s coming from? Will they answer it if they don’t know it’s an emergency? Many organisations find their recipients didn’t answer an emergency call because they didn’t know it was an emergency. If this is a potential issue for you, ensure your supplier can customise the incoming caller ID so it’s clear to recipients that it’s an emergency call!
Hosting. Do you want the emergency call out system to be hosted on your organisation’s systems? Do you want them on the suppliers systems? Would you prefer a hybrid. Consider the potential implications of where the system is hosted and check that your supplier can offer what you need.
Reliability. Reliability is important – there’s no point having a system if it’s unavailable when you need it. Ensure that a power cut, for example, doesn’t have the ability to knock out your system at exactly the time you need it. There are limitations to every system – e.g. you can’t call a mobile phone if the cell tower near it is overloaded or out of action – but you can ensure that your system is as reliable as you need it to be.
You generally pay for what you receive. Features and reliability cost money. Carefully consider what you really need from these and make this your ‘essential’ criteria. Think of everything else as a bonus if it’s offered and you can afford it!
Scare Stories = Test, test, test. We’ve heard of organisations who’ve employed a system and it’s never ‘quite’ worked for them. The systems are delivered but can be haphazard when used in anger – which is the wrong time to find out there’s a fault. To overcome this we suggest you test the system thoroughly before you accept it, and continue to test it on a regular basis. Not only does this ensure it does what it’s supposed to do, it ensures your users are familiar with interacting with it.
Contingency Planning. Every continuity planner knows that an emergency notification system needs a contingency plan: never lose the call tree capability – ‘manual’ is always the best last resort!
You’ll generally find a plethora of call out systems taking stands at business continuity conferences and expos. Even if you don’t pay for the conference you can usually visit the stands for free, and it’s a good way to keep up with what’s out there. We’re not affiliated with any call out service but some of those you might find are:
[Use the comments box below to provide links to any we may have missed!]
Don’t forget that every company will demo their system for you at your own site. They should also prepare a quote for you based on the needs you’ve specified. Be clear about what you want, and make sure they’ve included what you want in their quote. They should be prepared to pitch for your business. Nearly every deal is negotiable, and you shouldn’t officially accept a system after it’s delivered to your organisation until you’re absolutely positive it works for you – test, test, test it!
You may find the process takes on several steps:
- Look for apparently appropriate systems online, at expos and via recommendations
- Invite suppliers in to demonstrate their system and tell you more about it
- Invite suppliers to submit a proposal and quote for a system for your company
- Invite suppliers to pitch for your business
- Select supplier
- Test product before accepting it
Do you have any thoughts, recommendations, warnings or links to offer? Feel free to post them below. (If you’re working for that company, you’re very welcome to post but please be clear on who you represent!)
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