Guide to Emergency Notification Technologies

Check out these tools when you are setting up a crisis communications plan.

Mon, June 25, 2007

CIO — The first big push for emergency communication systems came, not surprisingly, after 9/11. Such technologies have garnered more attention over the past two years, a direct result of more recent terrorist attacks such as the London subway bombings, and natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina. April’s Virginia Tech tragedy is the most recent example of why mass communication tools are important for keeping track of, updating and organizing people during a crisis.

In 2004, Gartner predicted that 75 percent of Global 2,000 companies would have emergency notification systems in place by the end of 2007. Roberta Witty, a research vice president at Gartner, says that although that estimate has turned out to be high, more businesses, and now college campuses, are paying close attention to crisis communications methods.

Although there are many vendors in this space, Witty says that the technology they offer is, by and large, the same. “Notifications can be sent through cell phones, landlines, e-mail, pages, but mostly SMS text messages at this point,” she says. She predicts that VoIP-enabled communications will increase the ability of employers to send larger groups of messages, faster. That’s because, according to David Lemelin, a senior analyst at In-Stat, “the world is moving to an IP environment.”

For example, Dimension Data, an IT consultancy, is partnering with IPcelerate, a vendor offering emergency notification tools based entirely on IP. Matthew Kershaw, solutions architect for converged communications at Dimension Data, says that many organizations in the financial space, retail and higher education are using IPcelerate. Here’s how it works: A message is typed into a Web interface. Then, simultaneous alerts, displayed as SMS text messages or read as text-to-speech, are sent to all employees or predetermined groups via cell phone, pager, PDA or intercom.

No matter which vendor you choose, it’s important to remember that the tools are part of a larger business continuity plan. You also can’t forget to use them responsibly, says Witty. As companies start to use these tools more frequently, the possibility of sending alerts too often could become an issue. “It can’t become routine. You have to make sure you’re using these tools at the right time,” she says, adding that 3N, one of the major mass communication systems vendors, has already heard such concerns voiced by some of their customers.

The following are some of the most well-known vendors in this space.

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