Wednesday, 4 June 2014

The ‘pro and cons’ for Emergency Notification Systems

Emergency Notification Systems (ENS) Social Media and Text Messaging/SMS programmes are quickly becoming commonplace in an effort to provide alerts, news and information that is timely and accurate during an incident. The challenge now is to make them work in a way that fits.   
Essentially, ENS is a system that allows one person to create a message and then send it out to large groups of people all at once. Sending these by phone, SMS or email, it should be able to provide an automated solution to inform groups and individuals on emergencies.

However, there are both ‘Pros and Cons’ to using an ENS.

If I first look at the positives:
·         Most ENS are able to send a ‘one step’ voice or text message and email an entire organisation very quickly with pre-programmed messages. 
·         That speed offers real time accurate and consistent communications with the potential for follow up instructions, reports and assistance.  
·         It also supports notification to all critical members within an enterprise and allows a short notice capacity for discussion and immediate response
·         It can target specific groups, such as sending a special message to initial responders and this can only help in an emergency situation. 
·         Some, but not all of the systems, operate a feature called ‘inbound calling’, confirming that key initial responders have successfully received the message.

There are however some points to consider:
·         There is a chance that the ENS will have a glitch. Though it is unlikely, it is important to have back up information that is available for use if the ENS does not work.
·         It is also very important to have this system well tested and integrated within your organization. In many cases there can be mistakes and issues that are a user error and not just a system failure
·         The notification system is only as good as the information that is documented in the ENS. This can be tested in training and exercising, sending a message through the ENS to inform your employees and then check for currency.  For the employees that do not receive the message, there needs to be a system to have them update the information in the system
·         We need to be sure that mobile networks can cope with emergency-scale traffic volumes via SMS, targeting users by location is difficult, and there is no way to authenticate a message
·         When there is more than one party distributing information there is a strong possibility of different levels and quality of information all coming at the same time from a variety of sources, perhaps leading to saturation, misinformation and/or confusion all of which contribute to a functional fail.
·         Some employees may not have mobile service in the building or may have their mobile phone off while at work, which will limit the effectiveness of the ENS. By having the message sent out multiple ways and to different devises, i.e. mobile phone, email, desk phone, etc. will limit the likelihood that the message will not be received
·         It is difficult to determine cost to value.  When looking at an emergency notification system it is important to consider the features that are included, whether there are limits to the number of contacts or groups you can have, and what additional fees there may be, such as overage costs or setup fees

As with all types of notification systems there are both technical and human considerations. Perhaps most importantly it is the pro-active management of these two elements that will ultimately determine whether ENS becomes more established and a fundamental part of a complete automated emergency information process.
Michael Bourton, Senior Security Specialist