Mass communications with a large agency workforce is easier when you have plenty of lead time, as you do for a policy change or training class. Challenges arise when you need everyone to take action as soon as possible because of an approaching tornado, building contamination, or an armed person in the building, for example.
Effective mass-notification processes are becoming a requirement for government organizations. Mass notification is also part of continuity of operations plans, because employees who find out that the office is closed can start working from home rather than wasting time on an unnecessary commute and possibly placing themselves in harm’s way.
Mass notification has two components: getting the word out, and tracking which individuals have acknowledged receipt. To get the word out, speed is essential.
But an increasingly mobile government workforce makes timely notification more challenging. The key to reaching as many as people as possible, as quickly as possible, is to send messages through as many channels as possible. You cannot rely exclusively on email or voicemail. For example, sending emergency notifications to employees’ cell phones and displaying them on the agency’s digital signs is a good approach when you need to tell employees to not come back to the office—for example, in the event of contamination or a gas leak. Relying on voicemail and email alone could result in a delay in reception of the message and the recipients being placed in harm’s way.
Using multiple methods of emergency notification also gives you a backup if the event takes down one or more communications networks. For example, after an earthquake, phone lines may be saturated as people call their family members. And hurricanes routinely take down cell towers. Often the Internet is the last thing to survive, so back-up methods, such as email notifications can be critical.
The other component of an effective emergency notifications plan is tracking which employees actually received the message. People who receive a voicemail message, for example, can acknowledge receipt by pressing a number, and those who see the message on their Cisco Unified IP Phone display can press a soft key.
AtHoc, a Cisco partner whose products are available through Cisco, provides network-centric emergency mass notification systems. The solution has more than 2 million users. To learn more, contact your Cisco account manager, or visit the Public Sector Center of Excellence in Herndon, Virginia, for a demonstration.