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.
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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.
Dialogic’s main emergency notification product, The Communicator, is available as an onsite installation or a hosted application and claims to automate almost any manual notification procedure. Communicator NXT, an upgraded version, is a Web-based notification system that is powered by Microsoft.net and SQL.
Offerings include notification systems under Envoy WorldWide brand, designed to provide pertinent information to first responders and affected individuals during a crisis.
3N’s Instacom applications include Instacom Campus Alert, Instacom Enterprise and Instacom GIS, which enables employers to contact individuals in a specific geographical area or region.
Rev Interactive offers Global AlertLink, an Internet-based crisis management system. Companies can provide information to employees, media and shareholders during an emergency.
Strohl’s Incident Manager is offered in conjunction with ESi’s WebEOC. The new iteration enables incident communication and tracking and monitoring of events online. NotiFind is the vendor’s other major emergency communication product.
Prodigent, Evoxis’s product, allows for communication across multiple channels. The vendors says its Delivery Server component distributes messages and integrates speech cloning, automatic speech recognition and text-to-speech technologies.
With AlertFind, MessageOne’s main offering, authorized users can enter messages and create delivery rules via a Web interface or phone. The notification engine delivers messages to recipients immediately, via cell phone, pager or PDA.
Mutare’s Emergency Notification System product supports voice, e-mail and text messaging, and can be used to notify thousands of people during an emergency.
AlertNow emphasizes availability; it uses hardware housed in redundant data centers in multiple U.S. locations to deliver notifications, and touts its relationships with six telecommunications providers to ensure that message are delivered.
Specific to the higher education sector, e2Campus enables critical campus information to be sent via cell phone, RSS, Web page, e-mail, PDA, pager, or through an individual’s Google, Yahoo or AOL page.
Amcom’s e.Notify system can be implemented onsite or used as a hosted service. Features include support of any e-mail addressable wireless device (such as BlackBerry and Palm) and expanded paging services that include SMS and wireless communications transfer protocol, or WCTP.
IPcelerate’s capabilities include: the ability to send emergency messages through an IP phone, cell phone or PDA, and wireless sensors that, when activated, trigger intelligent notification messages. The company also offers wireless handheld “panic buttons” that alert response teams to the whereabouts of an individual during a crisis.