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Have you ever driven a car without routine maintenance? Maybe forgotten to change the oil or make sure there’s enough? Sure, your vehicle will run for a while, but eventually it will conk out. The same is true for your emergency notification system (ENS). If you’re not routinely testing, evaluating, and managing it, you could set your organization up for crisis failure.

In a recent Assurance webinar about effective emergency notification systems, almost 80 percent of attendees indicated their organization has a commercial ENS platform, but almost 65 percent said they either never do regular evaluations and cleanups of their system or they only do it as needed after an event or significant change.

Implementing an ENS can be an all-hands-on-deck moment for your organization’s key players.  Depending on the complexity of your work environment, it could take weeks to set up and implement. When you’re finished, you may be inclined to offer pats on the back and then sit back feeling confident your ENS is crisis ready.

The job might be done, but is it a job well done?

Without regular testing, evaluation, and contact and content management, you may set yourself up for fail points or serious delays that are only uncovered when it’s too late.

So what can you do to ensure you have a healthy, effective, crisis-ready ENS?

Here are 7 best practices to avoid pitfalls:

1. Maintain accurate, up-to-date contact information

Contact data is the most important component of your ENS. But often, ENS systems contain inaccurate, old, or incomplete data. This means you could lose valuable seconds—or sometimes the connection opportunity altogether—and fail to get critical information disseminated to your recipients.

When implementing a new ENS or reviewing your current system, evaluate your company needs and outline how you plan to use the system.

Questions to Ask:

  • How will you contact people? Will it be by department? Geography? Job function? Skillset?
  • Will you need to mobilize first responders?
  • Do you need to notify key stakeholders? Contractors? Customers?

Develop key criteria to create accurate contact groups and don’t forget to gather multiple points of contact. For example, if you only collect in-office or on-the-job contact information, what happens if an alert goes out after hours? Collect as many contact points as possible such as phone numbers and email addresses that will connect with your recipients wherever they are, any time day or night.

Your ENS should support multiple ways to manage contact data including automated feeds and self-update portals. Be sure this data is maintained and up-to-date at all times, not just when a new employee joins or someone leaves.

2. Don’t wait until an emergency to create contact groups

Create contact groups ahead of time. Don’t wait for an emergency to figure it out.

Use naming configurations that are clear and easy to find. Make sure they make sense for everyone who uses the system, not just those who set it up.

Use dynamic groups with specific criteria such as job titles. Dynamic groups update themselves so you don’t have to add and remove members manually.

Questions to ask:

  • Should they be created as dependencies based on geography or work groups?
The answer depends on your work environment; however, in many cases geographic dynamic groups make sense because emergency alerts are often issued to specific locations. Consider setting up geographical dynamic groups first, then later expanding to business units if needed.

Don’t forget to routinely evaluate your groups and do regular clean-up. You don’t want unnecessary groups—or groups with no data in them—cluttering your system.

3. Don’t create messages and alerts in the middle of a crisis

Often, bureaucratic processes for approvals throughout your organization, for example from human resources or the legal department, create delays in reaching your intended audiences. Instead, look at your plans ahead of time.

Questions to ask:

  • What are the situations where you will send alerts?

Create communications that align with those scenarios. Get appropriate approvals in advance. Then, when you’re in a crisis, you can immediately get alerts out without wasting precious time.

4. Develop a contact strategy

Contact strategy affects response rates. When setting up your ENS, don’t focus only on device type. The goal is to reach your recipients quickly and effectively, not just a specific device.

Questions to Ask:

  • Are your delivery methods appropriate for the situation?
  • Have you considered day and time?
  • Will you use call-throttling for desk phones?
  • Do you need time delays? Escalation tiers? Contact cycles?

Finally, have you created messaging that is appropriate for each device? For example, you can send longer messages via voice or email, but will need more concise messaging for text.

5. Review and analyze reports

Always review and analyze your reports after sending alerts and notifications. Be sure to routinely gather, analyze, and compare metrics over time. This will help you discover patterns and improve your system.

Questions to Ask:

  • What was your response rate? (If you have low response rates, it could mean you have bad contact data.)
  • Was the alert set up correctly?
  • Was the messaging unclear?
6. Branding and awareness are critical

If your recipients aren’t aware of your ENS plans, they may not take alerts seriously or worry they are being scammed or phished. Don’t lose critical moments of awareness because your contacts don’t know who you are or if the alert is real.

After setting up your ENS, create awareness campaigns for your target audience. Send information to your recipients frequently, not just when the system is new.

Make sure your recipients know what to expect from your organization during a crisis or emergency. Explain what alerts and notifications will look like. Give visual examples. Brand your notifications and ensure you have clearly identified the sender. It may be more effective to send an alert from a specific department, for example [Your Company Name Human Resource Department] instead of using a potentially unfamiliar employee name. Keep an eye out for a future Assurance blog about how to create effective ENS awareness campaigns.

7. Manage system access

Knowing who has access to your ENS is critical. Be sure to establish a system owner and also one or more back-ups. You don’t want to face a crisis and no be able to reach the person who has access to your system. It may also be good, if possible, to select a back-up contact who is in a different location than your primary ENS owner.

ENS ownership is critical for success. This person drives ENS adoption and keeps the system healthy by doing regular cleanups and assessments. This person can ensure your team is routinely evaluating core components to decrease missteps and mistakes during a crisis.

Be sure to determine in advance who can create, modify, or send alerts. Routinely review permissions to make sure people only have access to what they need to perform their specific roles.

Regularly train and do reviews with everyone on your ENS team. Training and testing are critical for successful ENS management and operation.

Questions to Ask:

  • Do they know how to issue notifications?
  • Do they know what to do if the internet goes down or if power goes out?
  • Do they know what to do if they can’t log in?
  • Do they know how to access customer support if they have an issue?
Perform ongoing drills and practices to make sure they’re able to perform their intended responsibilities.

Are You Ready?

These seven steps are just a few recommendations for a healthy, efficient, and effective ENS. Remember, even if one component doesn’t work or fails to do what’s intended, you may not be able to successfully manage a crisis.

A full ENS system is only as strong as its weakest link. Be crisis ready. Seconds can make all the difference between success or failure, and in some cases, life or death.

For more insights on emergency communications, check out our free webinar:

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Topics: Emergency Notification

Kelly Williams, Director of Enterprise Solutions at OnSolve

Written by Kelly Williams, Director of Enterprise Solutions at OnSolve

As the Director of Enterprise Solutions for OnSolve, Kelly Williams has over 10 years’ experience in all aspects of account management, implementation and training on notification systems. OnSolve is a global provider of cloud-based emergency notification and collaboration software systems.

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