The Problem with Mobile-Only Alerts for Mass Notification
Why Settling for Less Isn't an Option
The emergency mass notification industry is largely centered around sending bulk SMS text messages to mobile phones. Maybe your organization is already using this kind of tool to send mass messages. It’s a necessary component of an emergency mass notification system, but by itself, it’s insufficient.1 Research done at Western Washington University shows that mobile notifications are only ~80 percent effective.2 That may sound ok, but what if you’re one of the 20 percent that didn’t receive alert? What if that alert contained critical information about an active shooter, or the need to take shelter from an approaching storm? Would your organization still think 80 percent was good enough?
Many factors contribute to preventing mobile notifications from reaching 100 percent of their intended audience. Some organizations don’t have everyone’s phone numbers in the system. Mobile phones are often on silent. Other times, the phone may be in a bag, briefcase or otherwise out of sight. There are many circumstances when people are required to put away their phones, such as in healthcare institutions or classroom situations. Sometimes it’s as simple a fact as being in a building with poor cellular coverage.
Combat Ineffective Notifications
The key to achieving 100 percent reach is to supplement mobile mass notification with additional communication methods, such as in-building notifications, specifically audio and visual broadcasts to existing overhead paging or public address systems, desktop alerts, digital signage and desktop phones. Using multiple channels, i.e. in-building communications as well as mobile notifications, has the added benefit of increasing the sense of urgency perceived by the recipient.3
By combining in-building notification methods with mobile notifications, your critical alerts will be received far faster and will reach much closer to 100 percent of your desired population. Achieving the highest level of speed and reach should be the goal of any mass notification system.
1"If organizations want to instill a sense of urgency quickly, they must not simply rely on asynchronous channels—for example, text messaging—sent through their members’ personal mobile devices.” Organizational Communication in Emergencies: Using Multiple Channels and Sources to Combat Noise and Capture Attention: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hcre.12002/full (Human Communication Research Vol. 39, Issue 2)
2Active Shooter on Campus: Evaluating Text and E-mail Warning Message Effectiveness: Sattler/Larpenteur/Shipley https://www.degruyter.com/view/j/jhsem.2011.8.issue-1/jhsem.2011.8.1.1826/jhsem.2011.8.1.1826.xml?format=INT (Journal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. Volume 8 Issue 1. ) 88% of students had their cell phones turned on during class. 82% of students were registered with the school’s emergency system. 77% had cell phone service in most campus buildings.
3"This research provides an example of how, even in an emergency, multiple communication approaches are important and indicate that individuals can more rapidly understand the urgency of a situation by incorporating synchronous channels." Organizational Communication in Emergencies: Using Multiple Channels and Sources to Combat Noise and Capture Attention: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/hcre.12002/full (Human Communication Research Vol. 39, Issue 2)