Mass Notification Best Practices and Tips

This information is from my new book, The Ultimate Business Continuity Success Guide: How to Build Real-World Resilience and Unleash Exciting New Value Streams. I hope you enjoy the chapter and my book.

Mass Notification Best Practices and Tips

In this chapter I list some of my favorite mass notification system tips, tricks and techniques. Many of these have served me well. Some I learned the hard way and I have the bruises to prove it!

Message Creation:

Tip – Use a consistent message intro such as – ‘This is an important message from ABC Company’… Consistency avoids confusion and conditions people to realize the importance of the message. This will increase the number of people that read/listen to the entire message and the number of responses. Another way to say it is – it will reduce the hang-ups.

Tip – Specify the site location in detail including the exact address, city and state.

Tip – Mention the effected work day/night shifts, if your company has multiple work shifts.

Tip – Specify info such as date, day, time and time zone – so there is no confusion.

Tip – Specify the reason for the message – test exercise, weather, power outage… Be very clear and concise.

Tip – Clearly specify the action(s) to be taken.

Tip – Specify how the recipient can/will get more information. For example, ‘Continue to check the ABC Company Emergency Hotline – 555-555- 5555 for further updates’ OR – ‘The next status update will be sent at Date / Time

Tip – Begin all test activation messages with THIS IS A TEST. I have seen some really bad mistakes with this – including two by mass notification vendors trying to sell me their systems.

Tip – Eliminate superfluous words! Keep messages short and to the point. This improves delivery speed, comprehension and response rate.

Tip – Avoid acronyms. Speak clearly regarding the action that should be taken by the recipient. Do not assume they understand acronyms.

Tip – When recording a message be ready to hit the # button (or other button) to end the recording. Otherwise, if you delay before ending the recording, when the recipient receives the message he will hear ‘dead air’ and could hang up before a subsequent polling question is asked.

Tip – If time allows, write your message out before recording it.

Tip – End the message with an appropriate closing such as: Thank you, please use precautions when travelling, Stay safe, etc.

Tip – Speak slowly when recording phone numbers or addresses.

Tip – Listen to your message before saving it. Re-record it if necessary.

Tip – Repeat important information twice in voice messages. If your message is short, try to repeat the entire message.

Tip – Use a polling question, if possible. This enables you to capture valuable data, such as whether the employee or student is safe, will he /she be able to come to work and it also provides acknowledgement that the message was listened to by the recipient. You can then generate response driven metric reports to provide management a real-time pulse of the human impact of the crisis. Finally, asking a question provides consistency which will condition people and improve response rates. They will be happy you are concerned for their wellbeing.

Tip – When using text-to-speech listen to the message. Use phonetics if necessary to clarify words the system has trouble speaking. Text-to-speech is surprisingly good in some systems but on occasion will mangle some words.

Tip – Specify in messages that employees should ‘continue to check the Employee Hotline Phone number for updates. Say the number in the message in case they do not know it’.

Tip – Record messages in your voice, if possible, rather than text to speech. It will validate the message.

Tip – Keep text messages short and to the point so they do not have to be split into separate messages due to length.

Tip – Schedule call-list exercise notifications for approximately 7:30 pm local time. Do not schedule after 9 pm. People will get upset if they are called with a test message too late in the evening, especially if they have small children that may be sleeping. Been there, done that with a too late notification approximately 8 years ago. Hey, I can’t blame them, lesson learned!

Tip – Practice doing notifications with your team. Stay sharp! Every second counts during a real crisis. The more you use the system, the more comfortable and confident you will be activating it during a real crisis. In my experience, most people do not practice enough. Even if you train people to do notifications, which you must, there will be times that you and your team will be called on to do the complicated ones, when they just do not remember how to use the system or the pressure gets to them during a real crisis. Activating to 38,000 people the first few times can be terrifying. So, my suggestion is you should be very comfortable with your mass notification system.

Tip – Before hitting the ‘send’ notification button review your message and make certain it is correct. Also make certain you are using the proper recipient list. You do not want to send the wrong message or contact the wrong recipients. I have seen this happen. Listen, if it does happen to you it is not the end of the world. Simply send a ‘sorry please disregard’ message to the wrong list you used and send the message to the correct list. Don’t stress too much. Just another ‘lesson learned’. You must stay focused, never get rattled and move forward.

Tip – Understand device-retry rules. Knowing how device-retry rules work will enable you to answer questions concerning non-receipt of a message. I promise you, if the list you send to has 100+ recipients you will get ‘why didn’t I get a call, email, text, etc.?

Check the call log. Check the call retry’ s. Ask the recipient to check their spam filter. Ask if they opted in. Ask if someone else in their household might have answered the call and forgot to mention it? The bottom line is, in my experience, the system may have hiccupped and not sent a call, but that is few and far between for the good systems. Usually it is incorrect contact data, which we discuss elsewhere in the book, or they received it and did not realize it until you ask them to research a bit. I have actually won a few lunches betting that they received the message.

Tip – Use a consistent naming convention when creating call lists. You may eventually have hundreds of lists so it is important to be organized.

Tip – Use a consistent naming convention when creating scenario templates. You may eventually have hundreds of templates so it is important to be organized.

Tip – Advise employees what to expect in a call list exercise so they are not surprised or confused. I send a very detailed pre-exercise email to the recipients prior to the first call list exercise. The first couple of call list tests should be announced leading up to the exercise rather than using a surprise exercise. I send an email a couple weeks before the date of the exercise and then a couple of reminders the week of the exercise. You can use the system to send the reminder messages. It is good practice for you.

Tip – Use a meaningful caller ID number for voice calls. I favor branding messages with the Employee Hotline Number (see the previous chapter for employee hotline info). If people recognize the phone number, it will significantly increase the likelihood that they will pick up the call. Otherwise, they may think it is a telephone solicitor and will disregard the call.

Tip – Use care when sending a recipient required PIN number to listen to the message. Most systems allow you to add a PIN that the recipient must enter to listen to a secure message. For mass crisis alerts I suggest you do not use a PIN.  Imagine there is a tornado warning and someone has to scavenge around for their PIN.

Tip – Send a survey from the mass notification system after every call list exercise. Recipients will provide valuable feedback you can use to gauge their satisfaction and improve future notifications. Plus, you will be able to provide management with some nice testimonials.

Tip – When sending text messages use a short code that identifies your company to the recipient. Generally, mass notification vendors can supply you with a short code.

Tip – During a real event, if time permits (not for a time-sensitive event like a tornado), try to get the wording for notification requests emailed to you from the requestor. If the message is time sensitive and the authority cannot email it, have them dictate it and you read the message back to the requester and get their acknowledgement that it is correct. The last thing you need is to hit the send button and they say ‘hey I didn’t say that’. Yikes, we do not need finger pointing at crunch time.

Tip – Generate pre-designed metrics reports on the results of all test notifications. It is a good way to measure your current ability to reach employees and keep management abreast of progress. Also, generate reports during and after real crisis notifications.

I hope you enjoyed these tips. I provide a regular stream of tips in the Free Ultimate Business Continuity Tips, Techniques and Tools Newsletter.

Good news – there is more mass notification system information in the technology part of this book.

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