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Mission-Critical Emergency Notifcation

How to Choose an
Emergency Notification
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
Page 1
Table of Contents
1. The Requirements
2. The Market
3. Ease of use
4. Administrators
5. Features Count
6. Features List
7. Integration with other
8. Hosted or On-premise
9. Customer Service and
10. Vendor Trust
11. Resilience
Having requirements
driven by business needs
is crucial.
Let the Business Drive the Process
Like any investment, doing some homework before going out to
market will save you time and potentially costly mistakes when
procuring an emergency notifcation system. This white paper is
a guide that will help you ask the right questions, and determine
your exact needs. It is designed to help you think through the
process of defning, selecting and implementing a system.
Having a set of initial requirements driven by business needs is
crucial. Without a clear understanding of business needs, you
may make a purchasing decision that doesnt really solve those
needs. All too often, purchasing decisions are made with only
a small amount of thought given to how the system needs to be
used. This doesnt have to be a drawn-out process and can easily
be work-shopped to speed the process.
Before you begin to actually choose and review vendors, it is
worth initially reviewing some applications to see whether
there are features that you hadnt thought about that could be
worthwhile. Bear in mind, though, that these features should
be tested against a real business requirement. It is easy to be
dazzled by a wonderful array of features and lose sight of the
core business drivers. There is a simple test to apply: will you
use it and if you dont, will it get in the way of the confguration
or use of the notifcation tool?
Your requirements will then drive you towards a selection
of appropriate vendors based on your initial review. Most
medium-size and larger companies have procurement processes
in place that determine the next steps. However, it is also useful
to consider that there are many paths that the process could
go down, based on how much the system will cost and how
important the procurement is to your organization.
The Requirements
There are a number of considerations that you need to keep in
mind as you develop your list of requirements. The ones that
follow are areas that are sometimes overlooked.
Copyright 2013-2014, MissionMode Solutions
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Capable of adapting to
your needs.
Where will you want
to go after the frst
Make sure you have a
strategy to get good data.
Understand your unique needs as an organization
Determine whether the system will be needed for only
emergencies or for other uses such as the incident management
team, operational alerts, duty of care, supply chain issues, etc.
You need to defne the ultimate business needs that will be
solved by a properly operated system. Will the system save
money, avert risk, avoid regulatory action, or some other
defnable beneft? (Showing a positive ROI will increase the
chances of your project being approved.)
The notifcation system you choose should be capable of
adapting to your needs, rather than you having to change your
own processes.
Understand the geography of your potential
Where will this system be utilized? Decide if any international
considerations need to be taken into account. Consider how you
would envision deploymentcountry by country, region by
region or all at once. If the system will be used internationally,
its important to select a vendor that has a truly global
infrastructure with points of presence across the globe.
Predict the future
Have an estimated plan for where you want to go after the frst
implementation. Consider whether use might be expanded into
other business units. Will the ways in which you use the system
change in the future? You dont want to buy one system only
to fnd out you have to swap vendors when you implement
a phase two. How will the system ft into your overall crisis
communications needs?
Determine where the contact data will come from
Will your contact data come from a central repository or will
the data be entered by users (self-service)? Make sure you have
a strategy to get good data. If the data will come from a central
repository, will the notifcation system need to integrate with
that repository? Or, will manual data imports be sufcient? If
this data isnt available currently, defne how you are going to
get the data. Vendors should be able to provide best practice on
this, including how to clean the data once it has been initially
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Training needs should be
Will you be able to get IT
Consider who will be launching alerts
What are their user priorities? Will they need to compose
every detail of an alert from scratch or will you want to use
customized templates to reduce human error? Determine
whether these users need access to all possible notifcation
templates or if they need to be restricted to certain templates.
People are increasingly becoming mobile. Will you need users
to launch and view alert results using mobile devices?
Its also important to know how often users will be using the
system to launch alerts. This may determine the need for user
training. If a notifcation system is truly easy to use, though,
training needs will be minimal. Also, people are increasingly
becoming mobile. Will you need users to launch and view alert
results using mobile devices?
Diferent industries are likely to be driven to diferent processes.
Highly regulated industries (particularly safety- driven ones)
are likely to establish standard operating procedures around the
use of the notifcation system and therefore are likely to require
more rigor in their confguration.
Consider who will be receiving alerts
Determine which types of devices they will be using. Will
recipients need to respond to an alert with menu choices, not
just an acknowledgement? Defne the groups of users that will
be receiving alerts. Organizations often need to have groups
with membership based on user roles. Also, there is often a
need to sequentially contact members of a group until someone
responds in a certain way. Map out all the ways you will need to
contact recipients.
Consider who will be administering the application
Their level of expertise will determine how important ease
of use will be. You need to understand how much time they
can dedicate to managing the system. Will you be able to get
IT resources if the system requires them? Ideally, you want a
system that is easy to manage and doesnt require IT support.
With some systems, a user with average skills will be capable of
being an administrator.
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Implement where it will
have the most impact.
A market focus similar to
your needs.
Dont restrict yourself
to only the best-known
Determine the next area within emergency response
that will require software support
Establish what executive management thinks of the risk and
investment requirements. Consider what they need to protect
most: supply chain, customer support, agility, revenue,
reputation, etc. You will generally want to implement a
notifcation system into the part of the organization where
it will have the most impact. This can be followed with
implementations in other areas of the organization. For instance,
if your supply chain is considered vulnerable, then using
notifcation in that area might be of more importance than
warning staf of an ofce closure.
The Market
There are many notifcation vendors in the marketplace. Identify
those that have a market focus that is similar to your needs.
Determine if they are corporate or public-sector focused (this
will infuence whether the company is likely to have a system
that will meet your needs). Do they sell directly or mainly
through channels? If primarily through channels, fnd out if the
company or channel partner will be responsible for support.
Is their product focused on emergency, operational, marketing
or collections use? Make sure their product strategy aligns with
yours. A diferent market focus tends to imply features that
wont be relevant, priorities in serving customers that wont
suit you, and a product direction that wont converge with your
As the notifcation marketplace matures, many vendors are
branching out into other application areas. How will this afect
the investment in their core notifcation service? Can you
envision using these capabilities in the future?
As you evaluate vendors, your understanding of the business
needs will become crucial, deciding truly what is important and
what is unnecessary and could detract from a timely and cost
efective deployment. Think carefully about the non-functional
requirements such as customer service, support and agility.
Like any marketplace, the most visible companies dont always
provide these critical aspects as well as they could. Since this
system will be used for emergencies, choosing for these non-
functional requirements becomes even more critical.
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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MissionModes emergency
notifcation system is
built for mission-critical
enterprise use, yet its
easy to use and manage.
Will IT support be needed?
Spend some time investigating the post-sales support options
and how they will work with your processes. Check that the
vendor will have continuity of people between pre- and post-
sales so that your relationship and understanding built-up over
the sales process wont get lost.
Ease of Use
This is generally considered a subjective area of review, but
there are important considerations that can introduce a degree
of objectivity into the review. Users encounter the application at
several levels: confguration and administration; alert invocation;
receiving and responding. What are your expectations of each
user group?
One of the things that impacts ease of use is the complexity
involved with composing an alert. Having all the options on a
single screen is easier than making users click through a series
of screens. You also want to make sure that all the options on
this screen are easily understood.
If users will not be launching alerts on a regular basis, the need
for an easy-to-use system becomes more important. Choose
an application that does not require frequent training to use.
Having regular tests or exercises will go a long way towards
keeping users profcient with your system.
Another important consideration is administration of the
application. Ideally, you want an application that can be
managed by a user with average skills. You dont want an
application thats so complex that it requires IT support for
management. Involve a future administrator in the review of the
candidate applications.
Consider whether your administrators will want to confgure
the application once and keep the use stable, or whether they
are they working in an ever-changing environment where
they will they need to spend a great deal of time inside the
application. Will IT support be needed or can the application be
managed without IT support?
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Easy to use even when
used infrequently.
Diferent messages to
diferent types of devices.
Alert Invokers
Decide if your alert invokers will be the same as administrators,
or if they need a simpler user interface. You need to determine
if they can assimilate all the response information in real-time
and at varying levels of detail. How expert do they need to be in
using the application? You should choose a system that is easy
to use even when used infrequently.
Should those invoking the alert be the ones reviewing the
output? If not, then make sure the output can be seen in real-
time by more than just the invoker.
Mobile apps enable you to launch alerts from the palm of your
hand. They are very useful because your staf will not always
be in front of a computer. Make sure the mobile app uses alert
templates, which reduces the potential for error.
For recipients, consider how often they will be responding to the
alerts: daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. How fexible do you
need the alert messages to be to cater for diferent use cases (e.g.
emergency versus operational use; or incident response team
mobilization versus all-employee duty of care)?
Many vendors ofer native mobile applications that work on
smartphones and tablets. These mobile apps notify users when
an alert is received and give users a beter way to respond to
the message. Will you want users to have such an app on their
You will probably need to have diferent messages delivered
to diferent types of devices in the same alert so that you can
maximize the value of each device to deliver an appropriate
message. Email messages can be of any length, voice messages
should be brief and standard SMS text messages are constrained
by 160 characters per message. As an example, it may not make
sense to send a website address on a phone alert, but it would
be useful to have one in an email or SMS.
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Are features truly
necessary to meet a
business need?
Going beyond simple
emergency notifcation
Feature Count
Are the features you defne ones that you need now or will
defnitely need in the future? Defning too many features
that arent necessary will likely require too much efort for
administration and confguration. Defning too few will lead to
user frustration and stakeholder discontent or worse.
Be honest with yourself. Are the features you outline in your
requirements truly necessary to meet a business need, or are
they nice to have features that youll never actually use?
(Some vendors will try to sell you on slick features that you may
never use and which will only confuse users.)
If youre looking for a highly confgurable system, you need
to factor in the additional administration efort required to
manage the application. If you want to get a streamlined, simple
application, what features will you have to live without? Is the
compromise worth it?
Would you beneft from a system that ofers more than just a
standard notifcation system? For example, some vendors ofer
incident management applications that are integrated with
emergency notifcation. Also, there are mobile apps that go
beyond standard alerts by ofering messages with components
such as forms, text, photos, documents and GPS location.
Features List
At the high level, the following features can be the beginning of
your list:
Multi-channel notifcation (voice, SMS text message, email,
native mobile device notifcation, pager, fax)
Multi-channel response to received notifcations
Multiple response options, not just a simple
Diferent messages to each device type in one alert
Recorded voice alerts (this ensures accuracy that might not
be delivered by text-to-speech)
Device categorization (such as home or ofce phones)
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Features driven by
customer needs.
Consider the applications
you need to integrate
Automation rules such as escalation, sequentially contacting
people until someone acknowledges and dynamic teams
based on roles
Option for leaving voicemail
International coverage and points of presence
Selecting recipients on a map by drawing shapes to defne
Send follow-up messages based on initial responses
Target specifc locations, such as a campus or specifc
Conference call and contact center bridging
Single web page to launch an alert (for ease of use)
Native mobile apps for launching and responding to alerts
Consistent user interface between administration,
invocation and receiving an alert
You should also have a clear defnition of how product features
will evolve. This is not so much a list of features in the pipeline,
but the process by which new features are identifed and
incorporated, time-scales between releases, and how specifc
customer requests are handled.
Future feature enhancements should be driven by customer
needs. Make sure you check with the vendors and get examples
of how agile theyve been when working with customers.
Integration with other Applications
Many emergency notifcation system implementations dont
need to integrate with other applications, but the most common
point of integration is with a global directory which stores
contact data.
Will you need to integrate with other applications?
How easy will this integration be to develop and confgure?
Is an integration necessary or will manual data import be
Do you have a BCM system and do you actually store
contact information that is current within it?
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Available even when
your infrastructure is not
implementation is an
iterative approach.
Partnering... not just
handing you a system.
Should this be the place to gather contact data and teams
from, or is the gold source somewhere else?
What about other operational systems such as Physical
Security Information Management Systems (PSIMS), supply
chain and logistic applications, or help desk systems?
Hosted or On-premise
Software as a Service has become customary for notifcation
systems. The extra resiliency provided is often cited as a reason
for this. But what does that mean? Essentially, it means greater
availability of the application, even when your infrastructure is
not functioning.
The vast majority of notifcation systems are now hosted
by the vendor. This is for a number of reasons including
internal disaster recovery requirements, sharing of resources,
no hardware investment by the customer, and reduced
administration overhead.
There may be cases where an on-premise solution is truly
required, but these are uncommon. If an on-premise solution
is required, ensure that the vendor can recommend suitable
resiliency options and show how the primary and back-up
systems are going to be kept in sync.
Customer Support and Service
Efective customer support and service is critical if you are
to continually beneft from the investment in the notifcation
system. There should be a clear understanding and a proactive
involvement with the vendor to establish short, medium
and long-term goals throughout the duration of the contract.
Successful implementation is normally an iterative approach,
with increasing levels of sophistication reached over the months
and years.
Will the vendor work with you as a partner, or do they just hand
you a system? Proactive support is the key to good customer
service. The vendor should have a complete understanding of
your needs, the ability to deploy resources when needed, and
contact with the customer on a regular basis.
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Tease out the approach to
Resiliency encompasses
data integrity and
Behind a proactive approach is reactive support. When a
roadblock is reached how does your vendor get around it?
They need to be diligent in not just the frst interaction, but in
all interactions until the problem is resolved. Ask the vendors
references about their experiences with support.
It is important to know whether there is only a single data
center. There is also much discussion about the type of resiliency
ofered. Rather than asking what the confguration is, there are
other questions that will tease out not just the technology, but
also the approach to resiliency by the vendor. For instance:
What happens when a critical failure stops the primary data
How is failover handled and what happens to capacity?
How quickly will the full service be restored?
What happens when there is a software fault or data is
How does the resilient process handle a fault or
corruptionis the problem isolated or propagated around
the infrastructure?
Resiliency should also encompass data integrity and
confdentiality as well. Its not just about availability; it includes
such topics as information security. Think about your processes
and your atitude towards information security. Audit them
against your internal requirements so the vendor can show that
it can meet the requirement not just now but also into the future.
Vendor Trust
When you purchase anything, you are buying on trust. A
companys reputation is important in this process. How the
vendor treats the customer throughout the buying process
is important. Often, what happens in the buying process is
refected, or even amplifed, in the implementation and support
process. Check this with references. Confrm that previous
commitments made by the vendor have been kept.
How to Choose an Emergency Notifcation System
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Speed the process and
keep the momentum.
As in any investment, it is important to understand the business
need. This should drive the decision-making process. But dont
think that an exhaustive list of features and rounds of corporate
buy-in is the best way forward. Trying to do it in this way will
only lead to exhaustion. Try to use a focus group or workshop
to speed the process and keep the momentum.
Consider not just functional requirements, but also ease of
use, levels of service, trust and reputation. Ensure that your
deployment is iterative so that you can increase your maturity
and success in a managed and quick manner.
Early wins breed success and fuel demand within the organiza-
tion, much more than trying to defne everything in advance.
Incorporate all these points and your investment in an emergen-
cy notifcation system will yield real benefts and real rewards.
Emergency Notifcation and Incident Management
Smarter Emergency Notification
The Notification Center is built for mission-critical enterprise use,
yet its easy to use and manage. Intelligent, customized automation
adapts to changing situations and ensures a successful alert.
Features that you wont fnd in many other systems include device-
specifc alerts and alerts recorded in your own voice.
Incident Management Simplifed
The Situation Center provides the tools to remedy an incident
better and fastershare information, monitor tasks, track
peoples status, send alerts, access any type of fle, and more. Its a
streamlined virtual command center that enables you to put your
plans into action with the click of a button.
Revolutionary Mobile Communication
EarShot goes far beyond ordinary notification. Communicate
with rich 2-way messages using text, forms, photos, documents,
profles and GPS location. Increase situational awareness, get
on-the-scene intelligence, communicate with feld personnel, and
much more.
Contact us to learn
more or schedule a
North America
+1 877.833.7763 (toll-free)
+1 312.445.8811
+44 203 021 1036
Manage an
incident in
the palm of
your hand