Mass Notification Gets the Word Out

Given the news out of Atlanta and some other Southern cities just hit with severe weather, we’re going to jump ahead in our series on situational awareness to talk about its mass notification application.

We all know that you can’t control the weather, but you can control how you prepare and respond to weather emergencies or other triggering events that require detailed, efficient and ongoing communication to protect people, property, business and convenience. 

Mass notification ensures that pertinent information about triggering events – also known as awareness transactions – is delivered automatically in as many ways as possible to those who most likely will be affected as well as those responsible for initiating emergency response plans. Today, driving situational awareness to as many screens as possible is key — from workstations (desktops and laptops), smartphones and pagers to tablets and digital signage, including closed-caption TVs, and of course public address systems and two-way radios. Mass notification also includes the ability to send alerts on demand if unplanned events or changes occur in addition to updates.

It’s also possible – and important – to set up alerts to differentiate between different types of emergencies. For example, one alarm should signal a fire, which means people need to exit immediately, while another alarm should indicate a tornado, which means people need to shelter in place. Both alarms can be set up not just to activate sirens and strobes but also send out appropriate instructions via emails, texts and phone calls. After the danger passes, everyone can be notified again with all-clear messages.

Now back to “Snowmageddon” in Atlanta, where one of our employees and her family were impacted. Following is her explanation about how direct communication between school administrators and parents would have helped:

“The county sent notifications via email, text and phone, but each school had to deal with a unique set of circumstances that weren’t conveyed to parents. For example, a countywide early dismissal was broadcast at 1:45 p.m. on Tuesday, but I didn’t know that the buses for my child’s elementary school were unable to return for the early dismissal until I heard it from my neighbor who was called directly by one of the bus drivers. Mass chaos erupted as anxious parents like me took to the roads, which were starting to ice over, to try to retrieve their children, not knowing if they were still at school or on a bus on those same treacherous roads. The last child was picked up from our elementary school at 3:05 a.m. this morning by a police officer who had rescued her stranded mother en route to the school. While the principal of my daughter’s school did send continuous updates via email, a more sophisticated alerting system that the individual school has control over would have kept parents abreast of the situation, lessening confusion and stress and improving safety for all involved.”

This is just one example of how situational awareness technology could be used for mass notification in the event of inclement weather, or any other type of incident.

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