How Technology is Changing Emergency Communication
Can these six ways technology is improving emergency communication result in gains in your organization's emergency preparedness efforts?
Advances in technology, combined with the need for immediate information, have led to significant changes in the design, installation, and capabilities of emergency communication systems. The changes offer organizations better tools to communicate with staff, visitors, and occupants in an emergency. These advances can improve the quality, capability, and reliability of emergency communication systems and enhance how organizations can access and manage emergency messaging.
The availability of this new technology raises a question for facility managers: Can these gains improve your organization’s communication efforts before, during, or after an emergency? With advances come responsibility. Facility managers should not only keep up with advances in technology, but also understand how the new technology can be used to improve current response strategies and protocols.
Changes can be discussed in two ways. First are changes in technology, including communication capabilities, infrastructure requirements for the emergency communication system, and ways of managing emergency messaging programming and strategies. Second, facility managers should be aware of how advances may be support or improve the organization’s current operational approach to emergency communications, including activation protocol, pre-approving messages, and message distribution.
1. Communication capabilities
Over the past few years, emergency communication system notification capabilities have improved in how messaging is communicated, how the messaging is controlled, and how recipients receive information related to an emergency. Improvements in notification speakers, strobes, message boards, and other media have provided facility managers with the ability to reach occupants in various methods based on their location. These improvements include better reliability, networking capabilities, and integration capabilities. Advances in notification appliances provide an opportunity for facility managers to review their current capabilities and improve coverage.
2. Infrastructure requirements
The use of improved notification appliances may require additional infrastructure to support the functionality, integration, and operation of the emergency communication system. As facility managers look at new technology, they should review the current infrastructure to determine if it can support both the new and current equipment and devices. Without the proper network infrastructure, new technology added to an existing system may result in failures or issues that affect the overall operation, stability, and functionality of the emergency communication system.
With new technology coming out on the market, fiber optics has become a standard approach to supporting the emergency communication system.
3. Managing the system
User interfaces to support the command and control of the emergency communication system have improved over the last few years, allowing facility managers to manage and coordinate system operations remotely, for example, on mobile devices with touchscreens. The improved user interface makes it possible to coordinate emergency messaging more quickly and easily and provides a more stable capability to coordinate messages. Continued improvement in how the system is controlled has required organizations to review their current operational strategies on how, where, and when the system is activated.
4. Activating the emergency communication system
The activation protocol should identify who is authorized to activate the system, identify messaging groups for communications, and outline the messages that may be used. This protocol should be tested on a regular basis to confirm its effectiveness.
The activation protocol should address both local and remote system activation. This issue has become more important now that organizations are able to activate the system from a tablet or mobile phone. The facility manager should clearly define who will be allowed to access the system from mobile technology, as well as how and when that will be permitted.
5. Pre-approving messages
Facility managers should regularly review the messaging strategies, templates, and pre-determined message scripts to confirm that they are suitable and to avoid delays caused by the need to get a script approved when an emergency is in progress. This review should also cover text-to-speech messages and live messaging capabilities.
Remember that messaging scripts typically are reviewed by the executive level management team, as well as the legal and public relations departments. These key stakeholders may not be present at the time of an emergency, may have differences of opinion, or may not accept the message, format, and distribution strategies.
Messaging should be reviewed as part of an on-going program that includes training and exercises related to the use and management of the system.
6. Distributing messages
Today, every person has access to information on mobile phones, tablets, and laptops. The dependence on these technologies for distributed-recipient mass notification systems requires organizations to review messaging formats, distribution groups, and data security.
Facility managers should also review new notification appliance capabilities to ensure that the right information is delivered through the right medium. This review should consider how the messaging will be transmitted through new speaker/strobe technology, new network monitor technology, and other technology that provides streamlined notification in specific locations.
It is also essential to decide in what priority the distribution channels will be activated. For an organization with operations where most of the work is done on the exterior of the property, the priority may be the use of wide-area capabilities like speakers with a secondary priority on distributed-recipient technologies like SMS messages. Priorities for distribution channels should be set as the technology is installed.