The Case for “Multimodal” Emergency Notification

Just days ago, Facebook, the social networking site adored by more than 1.4 billion people around the planet, experienced two outages within a seven-day period. The downtime was the subject of countless news stories, talk show segments and online posts around the world.

While one would hardly classify this situation as an emergency (depending on whom you ask, I suppose), it does bring to mind the fact that any single communication channel, even one as popular as Facebook, is subject to disruptions.

It’s a key reason why a multimodal strategy for critical communications is so important.

The term “multimodal strategy” refers to deploying a wide variety of communication channels for critical messaging instead of utilizing only one or two paths. Potential notification modalities include email, Short Message Service (SMS), traditional phones, mobile phones, desktop alerts, recipient mobile apps, digital displays and a host of other devices capable of disseminating information.

Relying on only one or two of these channels could cause problems during a critical event. Internal email servers fail, SMS messages get lost and even telephone services can go down. However, when sending messages through numerous channels at once, your odds of getting urgent communications to an intended recipient increase dramatically.

Multimodality is a fundamental characteristic of emergency notification services. Instead of creating a single email or text message, for example, alerts can be easily sent through a host of devices and communication pathways with the click of the mouse. Consider the following tips for getting the most out of a multimodal notification solution:

Take advantage of available out-of-the-box modalities.

If you’re only leveraging a single primary communication channel, consider broadening your use of devices. Examine how you can utilize modalities such as desktop alerts, IP phones, digital displays, recipient mobile apps, etc. that are already built in to top mass notification services.

Pursue integrations for additional modalities if they are right for your organization.

While there are many options for built-in modalities, additional channels may also be available if the vendor has strong integration capabilities. In-building signage, public address systems, giant voice, wall-mounted devices, etc. can all be added to the already significant list of channels.

Count the costs.

All modalities are not created equal when it comes to expenditures. International calls, for example, can rack up hefty long-distance fees. Even SMS messages can impact the budget. Deploy what is needed in order to adequately inform your stakeholders, but don’t lose sight of costs for non-urgent notifications. Consider a recipient mobile app that utilizes Internet Protocol (IP) end-to-end (which bypasses long distance fees and SMS charges).

Make sure the modality matches the event.

A word of caution is in order when considering a multimodal communication strategy. Do make sure the communication channels/devices you’re using parallel the event. For example, all devices may be appropriate for a severe weather alert. However, an active shooter situation may call for silent notification modalities such as desktop and digital display alerts so as not to unintentionally reveal the location of hiding employees by ringing their mobile device.

While any single communication channel may have its own unique set of advantages, it simply can’t match the reach, accuracy and peace of mind offered by adopting a multimodal communication strategy. Utilizing a wide variety of channels will increase your chances of success during urgent situations.