The Best Way to Notify a Large Audience of an Emergency

One of the situations that many of you reading this blog today will relate to is the need to notify the parents of a school in the event of a severe cold weather event, also known as “the snow day.”

We had a recent roundtable discussion about the benefits of various notification systems and their varied levels of effectiveness. If you are the principal of a school, the HR director of a large company, or even the leader of your neighborhood book club, there’s a decision tree to consider.

First of all, every contact in your computer’s address book or your smart phone’s contact list is simply another version of data. Your options are limited only by your imagination – you can use voice mail, email or push notifications through a simplified app to let everyone know that school is canceled, that the office is closed, or that the book club has been moved to Harriet’s house.

When we talk about mass notification and mass alerts on a large scale like a municipality, the EAS system is what most municipalities are using, because they are recognizing the common thread amongst the majority of people, which is the mobile phone. Just as your government can hijack your TV for their alerts through the Emergency Broadcasting System, they can do the same with mobile phone alerts.

As you consider which system is best for your situation, you have to think through the fact that:

  • Some people don’t listen to their phone’s voice mail as regularly as they should;
  • Some people have more than one email, so how do we identify which one they check most frequently; and
  • There’s a 95% check-in rate for texts, vs. a 20% to 40% open rate for emails.

Taking the snow day scenario into account, if a school had all parents opt in to download a school notification app on their smart phones, it would mean that parents have granted permission to notify them. If they are opted in for push notification there would be no text message fee for each message received by the parents. That’s the best part of this.

Also, the app doesn’t require much memory on the user’s phone. In short, an app with push notification is the fastest and most effective, streamlined way in which to reach a large group of people. And for those parents who don’t use a smart phone, but are still rocking the flip phone, set up a text service and communicate with them on that channel instead.

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