Emerging Technology (Enhancing, Engaging, Connecting)

Emergency Messaging Systems 2014

Our society and our institutions have seen violent occurrences over past years, as well as large-scale weather events and natural disasters. A consequence of this, particularly recently, has been the rapid development and improvement of emergency messaging systems, or EMSs. Most of us can identify with the changes we have seen, from outdoor sirens to messages and alerts we now receive on our personal devices. Today, there are numerous systems with excellent capabilities to choose from — offered by traditional players as well as startups — that are receiving strong reviews.

Any campus without a robust communication system that can be employed during a crisis is not meeting its obligations to members of its community, including parents and alumni off campus. Further, the requirement for effective communication to safeguard constituents is increasingly the subject of state and national policy and law. The challenge is how to choose a system with the capabilities necessary to meet institutional needs, and that will be continually developed and enhanced as the needs of the institution evolve.

EMSs are traditionally regarded as communication systems that deliver messages to designated recipients to warn them of threats and to urge them to take corresponding precautions. As technology has evolved, these systems have evolved to embrace numerous communications media, including phone, instant messaging/texting, email and others. They have also evolved to incorporate transport across numerous channels, including WiFi and commercial carriers. As devices have evolved rapidly on several OS platforms, EMSs have been enhanced to keep pace. Most recently, EMSs have begun to evolve to integrate more effectively with existing communication systems, websites and social media sites (such as Facebook).

Choosing an EMS

An EMS should be part of a comprehensive communications strategy. Campuses should start with a clear understanding of what they want an EMS to do. All needs should be identified, and different campus units should work together to ensure the solution is one that meets institutional needs rather than those of individual offices.

Numerous questions should be considered. Who will receive the notifications? Is there an existing repository of recipients and contact methods, or must this be created? Will individuals be allowed to opt in or opt out of messages? What methods will be used to ensure successful message reception on multiple devices and across multiple channels? Is there an existing protocol for emergency communications, including possible events/incidents and corresponding messages to be used? Will it be necessary to send different messages to different groups, either by function or location? Are messages in multiple languages important? Should the system be only one-way in issuing notifications, or is two-way communication with response desirable? Numerous resources exist on the web to help guide these and other considerations.

EMSs continue to evolve rapidly, and any search for a solution should be thorough. But a number of providers are particularly noteworthy as a starting point. In 2012, Gartner, Inc. identified four vendors’ products as visionary leaders in their widely cited Magic Quadrant report on the subject. These were AtHoc, MIR3, Send Word Now and Everbridge. This is not in any way to slight other vendors.

AtHoc is based in San Mateo, CA, and has a wide offering of products. The company has a strong following in sectors including government/military, industry, healthcare and higher education. In terms of interoperability, AtHoc has capabilities with both Cisco and Microsoft products, particularly concerning unified communications.

MIR3 is headquartered in San Diego, CA, and has offered products for over a decade. Like most other providers, SaaS solutions are available. MIR3 has broad sector representation, particularly in financial services, industry, government/military and higher education. The company has been recognized for innovation over its history.

Send Word Now is located in New York and has been offering products since 2003. The company boasts a high customer-retention rate and has sector representation in financial services, government/military, healthcare and higher education. Their marketing emphasizes product reliability, company stability and customer support.

Everbridge is another California-based company, and has become one of the most noted players in this area recently. Everbridge has strong presence in government/military, healthcare and particularly higher education. Gartner, Inc.’s Magic Quadrant placed Everbridge as an overall leader.

Unfortunately, we are constantly reminded of the need for an effective EMS. Fortunately, there are strong solutions available both from the four companies mentioned and a number of others.

This article originally appeared in the March 2014 issue of College Planning & Management.

About the Author

David W. Dodd is vice president of Information Technology and CIO at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ. He can be reached at 201/216-5491 or david.dodd@stevens.edu.

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