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Emergency communication plan - more than just SMS text

Why SMS Text Alone Isn’t a Reliable Emergency Communication Plan

Emergency communication plan - more than just SMS text

March 22, 2023 Posted by in Mass Notification

Any strong emergency communication plan has several components – preparation and practice, protocols, and communication. Consider a building fire – it wouldn’t be enough to just pull the alarm. Evacuation routes must be posted, employees should know what to do from practice, and a team is ready to communicate with emergency personnel and stakeholders to keep everyone safe an informed. 

Using only text/SMS is like only pulling the fire alarm – it is one aspect of an entire plan, and using only one piece doesn’t make it work well. 

During an emergency, communication must be quick, clear, and received. This is the only way it can be acted upon. People are notified in so many ways about so many different things; an emergency alert must disrupt a recipient and get immediate attention. 

While about 65% of the world’s population uses SMS technology, that doesn’t mean it’s the best way to reach people. Why? Overuse. The number of texts sent and received has more than doubled since 2010. “According to text messaging statistics, adults under 45 years old send and receive approximately more than 85 texts each day.” Many messages go unread or ignored, which during an emergency could be dangerous. 

Five reasons why just sending text alerts isn’t a good emergency communication plan

Instead, multi-channel communication (email, voice calling, and app notifications, in addition to SMS) ensures disruption and action. Advantages to this approach include: 

  • Redundancy: By using multiple communication channels, you increase the likelihood that your message will be received by the intended recipients. If one channel fails or is overloaded, the message can still be delivered through another channel. Also, multiple channels sending notifications at once reinforces urgency and the likelihood of disruption. 
  • Reach: Different communication channels reach different audiences, so using multiple channels can help ensure that your message is received by as many people as possible. For example, some employees on certain job sites may not have access to SMS text messaging, but can receive notifications via voice call or app notification. Texts can be delayed, lost or cluttered on a recipient’s phone. If a recipient gets text alert fatigue and opts out, you can’t reach them at all. 
  • Richness: Different communication channels offer different ways to convey information. For example, email or Teams alerts can support multimedia such as attachments, photos and videos, which can help provide more context and detail about the emergency situation.
  • Accessibility: By using multiple communication channels, you can ensure that people with different accessibility needs can receive the message. For example, people who are deaf or hard of hearing may not be able to receive a phone call, but can receive a message through text or visual notifications.
  • Speed: Some communication channels may be faster than others, depending on the situation and recipient access to cell or wi-fi networks. During an emergency, cell phone networks can become congested and overloaded with traffic, making it difficult to send or receive text messages. Also, SMS messages are not always delivered in real-time, and can get throttled if they are not from a dedicated emergency SMS short code. 
  • Flexibility: Different communication channels can be used to convey different types of information, such as instructions for evacuation, updates on the emergency situation, or contact information for emergency services.

Other Considerations

Other aspects beyond just the medium or channel of text messages for emergency communications should be taken into account. For example – what software sending program are you using to send these texts? Some possible issues could arise:

  • Legal issues: Sending mass texts can be a legal minefield, especially if you are using a general texting provider verses a texting service dedicated to just emergency communication. When sending mass texts, you must consider and comply with legality around privacy and anti-SPAM laws and regulations including opt-outs and data protection regulations. 
  • Security: The communication software you use must be extremely secure so sensitive information is protected. SOC II compliancy is best – as well as robust secure practices around encryption, user authentication, and secure access controls like a Single Sign On capability.
  • Hindered access to the communication platform, or no way to easily send quick messages: You need a platform that allows multiple users to access employee appropriate contact data (like say, verses your entire HR system) so you don’t have to rely on just one person to send messages during an incident.
  • No follow up options, which means no insight into what’s happening on the field: Many SMS services do not allow for two-way communication or polls, making it impossible to interact with and gather crucial data from recipients. 
  • Poor data analytics: Without robust analytics capabilities, It can be difficult to know if a message was actually seen, and actually read. This can leave you in the dark on message reach and appropriate next-step messages.  

A communication plan is only as good as its recipient data integrity

Effective emergency communication plans are designed to target specific groups of people based on their location, role, or other characteristics. Accurate data is necessary to identify and locate these groups and to ensure that the right information is communicated to the right people.

Without a robust mass notification system that incorporates real-time data syncing to your CRM or HR system, your notifications might not reach everyone it needs to. If contact information is incorrect or not synced, the messages won’t be delivered. Text alone can also make it more difficult to segment recipients by work location, job title, etc.  Data syncing ensures the most up-to-date contact information for all recipients, which increases the likelihood that alerts and notifications will be delivered successfully.

A better emergency communication solution

Emergency notifications do more than just convey information – they quite literally keep people out of harm’s way. If the only channel utilized is SMS, it’s likely many people will not receive or read the alert, putting them in danger. By using multiple communication channels, and a robust mass notification system equipped to facilitate true emergency communication, you can increase the effectiveness of your emergency communication plan and ensure that your message is received by as many people as possible. 

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