The changing paradigm in mass notification: Unified Communications
Interruptions to day-to-day business operations for the average organization occur numerous times per year, resulting in thousands of hours of lost productivity and revenue -- potentially endangering public safety. Common causes of these interruptions include power outages, severe storms, floods, chemical spills, accidents, information system crashes, human error and more.
During these times, the difference between an inconvenience and a disaster is often driven by two critical factors: preparedness and communication. Whether it is preparation, training, exercises, recalls or actual emergencies, timely and accurate information and notification are critical.
People will react to incidents and emergencies, with or without the necessary information, and decisions will be made. A single timely notification can make the difference between an inconvenience and a disaster.
In recent years there have been headlines almost daily about natural disasters (such as tornadoes, earthquakes, floods, wild fires, blizzards, etc.) and man-made disasters (such as massive auto accidents, campus shootings, civil disorders and system outages.) In addition, one can open nearly any business or technology journal and find an article on the disastrous effects of failures in technology and security. Again, the common theme across all of these events is the need for better preparation and better communication.
In response to the ever-growing number of incidents -- and the need for better communication -- organizations have looked to technology for a solution. Pagers, overhead paging systems, PBX, phone trees, radios and sirens all took advantage of the then-current and available technologies, which provided some improvements. Email and expanded telecommunications technologies have added further improvements in communication. The explosive proliferation of cell phones, SMS text messaging, expanded access to the Internet, VoIP, desktop computers, laptop computers, smart phones and tablet PCs have provided significant advancements in mass communication. Social media now offers yet another enhancement of mass communication capabilities.
With the abundance of technologies available to fill the need for mass communication, you might which of these technologies is the best? Of course, the answer is that the specific situation dictates which technology or technologies are right for your organization.
Just as not all incidents or emergencies require the same response; not all incidents or emergencies demand dissemination of information to all affected individuals or groups. And, not all individuals or groups have access to all available technologies. Therefore, it is apparent that no one technology is best for all situations. Organizations must consider the use of multiple technologies in assembling their mass notification solutions.
The use of multiple independent communication technologies offers the opportunity for improved rapid communication to individuals and groups. However, these independent systems also introduce the complexity and expense of managing and maintaining multiple systems. Also, there is the increased potential for inconsistency in the message and information that are delivered. These deficiencies have driven the need for what’s known as Unified Communications, or UC.
Unified communications encompasses technologies that automate and unify diverse communications into a single experience. UC incorporates business processes and technology infrastructures, and enhances communication by eliminating device and media dependencies.
The goal is to no longer focus solely on a single technology for day-to-day notifications and emergency communications. Rather, the goal is to unify or integrate communication technologies into a single platform. A single unified mass communication platform offers the diversity, presence, message consistency and contact capabilities that extend beyond any single communication technology. Instead, it incorporates all available devices an organization or person may have at their disposal. The UC platform expands the reach of the mass communication system by rapidly delivering time-sensitive, critical, actionable intelligence to targeted individuals and groups, through all available technologies.
The advantages of a UC mass notification (UCMN) platform can be seen in the hypothetical example of a university that suddenly finds itself confronted with an active shooter on campus. Through the UC mass notification system, an alert can publish in real-time, providing critical situational information to law enforcement agencies, staff, students and family. A single alert activation can call one, some or hundreds of key recipients in seconds. Alerts published can be simultaneously delivered in video, voice, text messaging, text-to-speech, email, computer pop-ups, speaker systems and more, along with real-time reporting information that displays recipient confirmation.
The new unified platform, real-time systems eliminate situations in which numerous emergency operators spread similar -- but less then accurate -- emergency information. The use of all available technologies minimizes the potential that an individual or group will not receive the message. Incorporation of the in-place infrastructure, PCs, digital displays and emergency display units further extend the reach of the UC mass notification system to campus visitors.
Recent technological advancements in the alerting industry have been spurred by participation through interoperability across IP-based computer networks. The Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards, or OASIS, is a not-for-profit consortium that drives the development, convergence and adoption of open standards for the global information society. The OASIS Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) has recently been adopted by the U.S. Department of Defense, as well as numerous government agencies worldwide as a mandatory interoperability standard. Total Alert Systems is a sponsor-level member of OASIS and incorporates the CAP standard into all of its products.
John Monville is vice president of Total Alert Systems Inc. He can be reached at: