More organizations than ever are employing specialized tools as part of their emergency communications plans, and that trend has contributed to increased activation speed for many organizations, according to BCI.
The critical communications product you choose for your organization could have a large impact on how effectively you can respond to any type of crisis, whether it’s a cybersecurity breach or a global pandemic.
Here are five core pillars of a critical communications product that enterprises should consider as they evaluate their existing system or look for a new one.
1. Customization Capabilities
When you send out an alert to a group of stakeholders, they should know immediately who sent it. Effective critical communications systems enable organizations to customize messages with the company logo, for example, so recipients can tell at a glance that the alert is legitimate and should be taken seriously. Customization can also allow organizations to select different formatting or color schemes for emergency alerts and routine organizational messages so stakeholders know whether the message is urgent or not.
Alert systems should allow your organization to send messages to specific groups of employees, such as the IT team, so the right people are notified as soon as possible when an issue arises. Different organizational functions may need slightly different alerting features, so a strong critical communications system should allow you to personalize functionality for different users, such as the security team, management board, and business continuity team.
2. Reporting and Analytics
A strong critical communications system should offer detailed reporting and analytics so your organization can meet any legal requirements, increase transparency across departments, and evaluate and improve future business continuity and disaster response plans.
When you send out a mass alert to stakeholders, it’s important to be able to track who received the message and who opened it so you have an idea of who might need assistance. The system should be able to provide detailed reporting immediately after an alert is sent, including who received the alerts, so you can create an after-action follow-up plan. Ideally, the system will also enable two-way communication so stakeholders can respond to either confirm that they are safe or say they need help.
Detailed reporting can also be useful for increasing transparency because it allows authorized team members to see what actions have been taken so far in response to the crisis and how they can best proceed.
3. Reliability and Security
If your enterprise alert system is unreliable and unsecure, it will likely create more problems than it solves. A reliable critical communications system should be able to rapidly send out messages to all relevant stakeholders so they can take immediate action. When a crisis hits, every second can be the difference between life or death, so an unreliable system that breaks down when you need it most is a crisis of its own. An alert system should be able to reach stakeholders anywhere around the world on a variety of communication channels, even in places with limited coverage.
Security is also crucial because alert systems have access to personal contact information, and a breach could jeopardize your organization’s reputation and stakeholder trust. Your critical communications system should offer secure, encrypted messaging with extensive logging and role-based permissions. If a vendor uses an off-site data center, make sure it’s ISO/IEC 27001 or SOC 2 compliant.
4. Geo-Targeting Capabilities
In the case of a localized emergency, your organization may need to alert a group of stakeholders in a specific area. For example, if there is an active shooter in one of your office buildings, the employees who work there are the ones who need to be alerted the moment the threat is made known.
Critical communications systems that enable geo-targeted messaging can reach stakeholders in a specific building or even on a certain floor. You should be able to easily map the desired area or enter the location using a city name or ZIP code. In addition to alerting affected parties, geo-targeted messaging prevents your organization from sending irrelevant alerts to stakeholders in areas unaffected by a crisis.
5. Seamless Integration with APIs and Existing Hardware
Most organizations have a variety of software and applications already in place. A strong critical communications system should allow your organization to easily add alert functionality to your new, legacy, or custom-built solutions. Look for a system that can integrate alerts with your existing systems by using the API or command line option.
A platform that doesn’t mesh with your current system could cause duplicate work or result in a chaotic crisis response. Perhaps one of the largest tasks that comes with implementing mass communication software is making sure your contact data is accurate and up to date. A good critical communications system should be able to sync with critical systems, such as business continuity tools and badging systems, and automatically update the master database when employees leave the company or stakeholders are added.
How Foot Locker Harnesses an Alert System to Keep Employees Safe
A strong critical communications product is ideal for companies like Foot Locker that have thousands of stores located around the world. They need to be able to send individualized communications to employees working across multiple facilities, as well as to those working out of their New York City-based corporate headquarters.
Joe Castellano, Director of Security for Foot Locker, uses OnSolve Critical Communications to get the right messages to the right people, no matter the situation. Many Foot Locker stores are located in shopping malls, which are potential targets for gun violence. The Foot Locker security team can use OnSolve to alert employees at a specific store that there is an active shooter on the premises, advising them to either avoid the area or go on lockdown immediately. The ability to rapidly alert the right people the moment a crisis arises can save lives, whether the emergency involves an active shooter, a natural disaster, a global pandemic or another disaster scenario.
Enterprises rely on effective critical communications systems to rapidly communicate with multiple offices and a variety of stakeholders in numerous ways. Look for a system that can support your team’s needs with customization capabilities, comprehensive reporting and analytics, reliability and security, geo-targeting capabilities, and simple integration with APIs and existing hardware.