The Role of Emergency Mass Notifications in Terrorist Attacks

“This is a test of the emergency broadcast system. The broadcasters in your area, in voluntary cooperation with federal, state and local authorities, have developed this system to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. For the next 60 seconds, you will hear a tone that will be used to alert you in case of an actual emergency. Remember, this is only a test.”

We’ve all heard these words on our radios or televisions before. However, the vast majority of people have never experienced emergency broadcast systems used in real-world situations. Due to growing incidences of terrorism and terrorist attacks, however, emergency broadcasts and other mass notification systems are increasingly positioned to play vital roles in raising awareness, sharing information and saving lives. Here’s a closer look at what all organizational leaders should know about these powerful tools.

Learning from the Past

Although no two emergencies are ever alike, they often present similar situations and challenges. While plans, policies and procedures must be developed to acknowledge the full range of possible contingencies, we can still learn from the past to plan for the future.

Consider the tragic events of 9/11, as an example. In the aftermath of the attack, everyone from business leaders to first responders to disaster management professionals gained new awareness about which disaster communication strategies worked best during the catastrophe. But they also gained new awareness of something equally, if not more, critical: What didn’t work. More specifically, the loss of vital communications systems due to their proximity to likely targets, the lack of a single, multi-channel communication system; and insufficient exchanges between hospitals expecting an influx of the injured were all identified as priority areas to address following September 11.

According to Ohio State University professors of emergency medicine Thomas Terndrup and Nicholas Kman in an article in The Conversation, “While obviously both of us hope nothing like that ever happens again, as emergency responders it’s our job to plan for the unthinkably disastrous. No matter what, responders need to be able to deliver messages to the public, talk to hospitals, and connect with each other.”

This same mandate holds true — whether we’re talking about mass shootings, bombings, vehicles as weapons, or any other kind of terrorist attack.

Best Practices for Crisis Preparedness and Disaster Recovery

The reality is that disaster planning is a work in process. Every time a new terrorist attack occurs, knowledge increases about how good responses can optimize outcomes. One words that rings out amidst conversations about best practices for emergency response plans? Communication.

Don Hall, Director of Government Relations for OnSolve, the market leader in cloud-based communication and collaboration tools capable of delivering critical notifications and alerts said, “Even seasoned emergency managers will acknowledge, nearly every after action review has identified communications as a weak factor and it remains widely recognized that problems reside within every aspect of communications, from radio frequency incompatibility, face to face communications, the use of other multiple devices, the type of information that needs to be shared, and all the way to when and with whom to communicate. Communications is a multi-faceted function which is very difficult to perfect and it remains one that the public safety community seemingly continues to struggle with due to its broad nature and scope.”

OnSolve’s CodeRED Mobile Alert App is designed to address each of these points through emergency notifications in the most targeted way for the organizations it serves through geo-targeted alerting.

But organizations themselves also have a responsibility to investigate and evaluate how mass notification systems are working for them. This includes addressing questions ranging from how mass notifications were (and weren’t used) to whether templated scenarios and contact groups are sufficient.

Continues Hall of CodeRED, “The limitations for CodeRED or a similar mass notification system are only restricted by your level of usage, creativity and ingenuity.” Indeed, in recent years mass notifications have been used for everything from issuing shelter-in-place notifications during the manhunt for one of the Boston Marathon bombers to keeping the public informed during the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils last month.

We can think of no better time for organizations to consider whether their emergency notification systems are up to the task than heading into September’s National Preparedness Month. For more on how the CodeRED from Onsolve mass notification system can help you optimize crisis preparedness before, during and after a terrorist attack, contact us today.