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Latest Developments In Emergency Notification

360 IT : 16 September, 2010  (Technical Article)
Amir Moussavian of MIR3 examines the development of emergency mass notification methods and shows how modern technology brings greater notification possibilities
The need for mass notification is nearly as old as human history. Whenever there's been a crisis, there's been a need to alert citizens. From 1775, when Paul Revere rode through the countryside warning citizens that British troops were on the move, to the 1950s when school kids were advised to duck-and-cover in case of nuclear attack, people yearn for instruction when calamity strikes.

The development of emergency notification solutions follows technology. In the 1960s the emergency broadcast system (EBS) was launched to notify the masses using the very latest technologies—television and radio. By 1997 the EBS was replaced by the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which, like the EBS, relied on TV and radio, but also included analog, digital, terrestrial and satellite broadcasts.

Since the launch of the EAS, the world has suffered unparalleled catastrophes, both natural and human-caused, each one illustrating a need for better emergency notification systems. For most of the world, September 11, 2001 was a wakeup call and was soon followed by other disasters, like the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and this year alone, severe earthquakes in Haiti and Chile as well as the Deep Horizon oil spill.

Fortunately, technology has paved the way for new modes of notification that even today are saving lives across the globe. Advances like VXML (text-to-speech technology), the proliferation of smartphones, the ubiquity of SMS or texting, and the accessibility afforded us all by the Web have combined to make notification an incredibly powerful, efficient and flexible business tool.

Now it's possible to notify any number of people at once, no matter where they are, no matter whether they are using a landline phone, email, smartphone or SMS. With the latest in GIS (geographic information system) capabilities, notifications can be targeted to alert just those businesses that are in the path of an approaching hurricane or fire.

Notification is also no longer just a one-way shout-out, but has grown into a two-way conversation, where those who receive an alert can respond, indicating that they received the message, they are taking action, they need help or any other relevant information. This has changed notification from being a tool to alert the masses into a full-fledged communication solution.

So, although notification is usually brought into a company for emergency use, creative managers have quickly found ways to use it to boost productivity in other ways—like the HR department that used notification to share health information during the flu pandemic and to issue travel alerts during the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Or the many IT departments that use notification regularly to automate system alerts and manage helpdesk tickets. Or the sales director who uses notification to alert her team of price or stock changes, and logs responses so she knows the information was received, understood and applied.

What's even more interesting is how companies are reaching outside the corporate walls, using notification to talk and build relationships with customers and business partners. Like the prominent energy company that beefs up customer service by sending messages through voice, text and email, so that its often-mobile customers have a better chance of finding out important business news when on the road. A manufacturing company uses notification to alert distributors of product recalls, and uses automated conference calling functions (now common in advanced notification systems) so recipients can join a call with just the touch of button, making it easy to get questions answered and make sure messaging is consistent. A large California healthcare organization uses its notification tool not only for emergency notification, but also for client surveys and to notify health providers of changing medical codes through the state, and a large tech company uses notification to monitor routers around the world. When the tsunami struck Indonesia in 2005, an American conglomerate lost contact with many of its Indonesian workers. Though cell towers and landlines were all down, the CEO was able to send a notification to the Red Cross with information about the workers and thus expedite rescue efforts. And a Midwestern healthcare organization uses notification to reach seniors in their homes by sending automated wake-up calls, medication reminders and messages just to check that all is okay; if they don't get an answer, a alert is sent to a pre-designated caregiver who will look in on them.

As you can see, today's alerting systems are certainly not your mother's notification platform from yesteryear. Notification is ever evolving and has come a long way from where it was just a generation ago. It's become a conversation starter. It's no longer just a way to alert the masses, but an indispensible communication platform helping businesses everywhere enhance their relationships with customers and partners.

MIR3 is exhibiting at 360°IT, the IT Infrastructure Event held 22nd - 23rd September 2010, at Earl's Court, London. The event provides an essential road map of technologies for the management and development of a flexible, secure and dynamic IT infrastructure.

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