Emergency Notifications – Blast or Escalation?

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Mass Emergency Notification Blast or Escalation?

You just never know when the poop will hit the fan. Seriously!  Oh yeah, I once ‘got slapped upside the head‘ for ringing and pinging too many devices simultaneously. But I would do it again! Read on…

All modern full-featured mass notification systems allow you to send messages by blasting to all contact devices as quickly as possible or using an escalation. Escalations allow you to determine which devices are contacted and spread the messages over a pre-determined time period. The devices are contacted sequentially rather than simultaneously (blast). For example, you could specify a 20 second buffer between each device attempt for a particular recipient. If a device is answered by a live person (as opposed to an answering machine) the escalation for that recipient stops. The system will not call his/her other devices, as it succeeded in reaching the person.

A blast notification, on the other hand, sends the message to all devices for all recipients as quickly as it can fire them off.  In the real world, each recipient will receive the text and email first followed by calls to their voice device(s). The system must queue-up the voice calls and it may take seconds or a couple of minutes to being blasting out to them, depending on the size of the list. All the messages can arrive simultaneously to a user’s devices.

For a time-sensitive notification such an approaching tornado, I ALWAYS use a blast, as every second counts. There is greater probability of reaching a person if you contact all their devices. That is one of my selling points when asking users to register multiple devices. On the other hand, for a notification sent the evening prior for an anticipated next-day-storm, I lean toward using an escalation, as the event is not as time sensitive, as measured in seconds or minutes.

I used to prefer sending blasts during call list exercises to test as many devices as possible and familiarize recipients with the way the system works in an extreme emergency. Often, I could identify disconnected devices the employees no longer owned. They just forgot to update their HR record to indicate a new contact number. This data allowed us to loop back to the employees and HR to improve data quality for future notifications.

Be very careful though, as you might find management is ‘uncomfortable’ with simultaneously receiving calls on multiple devices. Been there, done that. It was not pleasant. One Senior Vice President just could not handle more than one device ringing at the same time. He went ballistic and let the whole world know that his night was ruined because a couple of his phones rang simultaneously and he also received an email and a text message. He just melted down from the confusion. Oh boy! Imagine that! Definitely not the type of person you would want as an Incident Commander.

He immediately had me ‘called on the carpet’ to explain why I wanted to test all devices. I explained to him the importance of testing as many devices as possible prior to an actual event, but he did not buy it. I had to take one for the team. However, if it helps you guys, it was well worth it.

My advice is even though you send awareness emails 4 weeks, 2 weeks, 1 week and 48 hours prior to a call list exercise, to make people comfortable with the system and the calls they will receive, you should clear whatever process you will use with management or it might cause you a lot of post exercise grief.