Continuity Insights speaks with Groff Bittner, VP of Platform Technology at MIR3, and Maz Ghorban, VP of Corporate Development at MIR3, about the use of social media in notification systems, lessons learned from Katrina and why BC plans should not be affected by predictions for the upcoming hurricane season.
Continuity Insights: From a technology standpoint, what have been the biggest changes to notification systems in the past five years?
Groff Bittner: One of the things we’ve been noticing is the different modalities that people are using to be notified. In the past we had phone, fax and email. Today, we see the use of social networks: If you want to reach people and make sure they pay attention to your message straight away, you need to look at other modalities for ways to communicate.
The other piece is the move to mobile — everyone has a smartphone now.
Maz Ghorban: Ten years ago it was extremely difficult to get data about the people you were sending messages to. For a long time that was the quite ssential implementation task: How do you get people to give you their information so you can notify them?
The trends now are being able to leverage the social network because the data is already there. It’s not only using the social network to deliver the notification, but using the social network to get contact information from people.
Continuity Insights: What social media platforms are being utilized?
Groff Bittner: It really depends on the customer and what their population looks like. A conservative organization will have a very different profile to a college campus.
Maz Ghorban: With many organizations, there’s notifying the employees, and then there’s notifying customers and vendors — most are a little less interested in using social networking for their own employees because they can use more traditional methods in those situations.
In other cases, for example a citizen notification system for residents that live near a power plant, the preference would probably be to push out notifications using facebook and twitter.
Continuity Insights: A lot of companies, especially in the Gulf region, have some kind of BC/DR/EM plan in place. What information or predictions about this year’s hurricane season is available, and how should companies go about altering their plans to account for these predictions?
Groff Bittner: We do have predictions from the federal agencies that it will be an active hurricane season; however, it really shouldn’t make much of a difference — it’s not like if it’s an inactive season you can sit back and do nothing. If the hurricane hits in your area it doesn’t matter if it’s an active season or not. What matters is: Are you ready for it and can you respond to it? So the point is that you should always be prepared, regardless of the level of urgency for the season.
Continuity Insights: What do you think were the most important lessons to come out of Katrina, in terms of effective BC/DR/EM planning and the use of notification systems?
Maz Ghorban: One thing that we found interesting when we looked back on Katrina was that it wasn’t necessarily the state and local municipalities that were driving citizen notification. Believe it or not, at the time it was the insurance companies that had the largest presence of notifications. They were aggressively sending out notifications days and weeks ahead of time to update customers, sending them information about being prepared for hurricanes, checking on them — and they kept that up through the event and even afterwards, to see if they were okay or if they needed to speak with a claims agent. They did a great job of creating an entire integrated communication process pre-, during and post-hurricane.
On the municipality side, they were sending notifications out to let people know where to go for supplies, for example, but they were reacting much more than being proactive.
The big thing that we took away was that our corporate customers — the people that had employees — were much more proactive in how they were managing notification and disseminating information than what we saw from state and local governments.
Continuity Insights: What steps can an organization take to assess what notification system is the right fit for them? What mistakes do you see organizations make when choosing a notification system.
Groff Bittner: One of the key things you want from a notification system is the multi-channel aspect. In a disaster, some channels will go down so you want to be able to reach people through phones, email, pager, SMS, internet etc. You don’t know which channels will work and which will not. Secondly, you need to have up-to-date data. Make sure your data is clean, accurate and the most recent, so that you can get through to the right people.
Lastly: Plan and train. Your notification vendor will help you through that process after the purchase.
Maz Ghorban: If you send a message out to 100,000 people, you are not going to get 100 percent success on the first try — especially during a disaster. It takes an average of five to seven attempts before we get a response from that person that says “Yes, I got it.” We find that the people who are multi-modal, who send notifications to different devices and who constantly send notifications out until they get a response tend to have a much higher success rate at the 20 minute mark, the one hour mark and the one day mark.