Message Received: Crisis Communication Systems

Crisis communication systems automate the process of contacting employees in an emergency

The recent bombings in London had many CSOs scrambling to find out if their employees were in that city and if they were safe. Cell phone bills in businesses around the globe likely registered a marked uptick in minutes as security executives initiated telephone call trees by calling Frank, who then called Sally and Murph, who then called Alec and Francisco and Stella, and so on down the line. Given the number of people that needed to be contacted, a lot of dialers likely ended up getting voice mails or even a "this number is no longer in service" recording or two, making the job of tracking employees a hit or miss proposition during the early stages of the crisis. In the meantime, CSOs sweated it out, waiting until the moment they could check off the last employee on their list as present and accounted for.

A technology that automates the tried but perhaps not so true manual calling process aims to help companies communicate with employees faster and more accurately during times of emergency. We first wrote about this technology in August 2004. Since then, the list of vendors has expanded and the systems have become faster. Companies can now broadcast messages to any number of people via different channels, within seconds.

One company hawking its wares in the mass notification system space is National Notification Network (3N). (Other companies making mass notification systems include Advanced Continuity, Dialogic Communications, Enera, EnvoyWorldWide, MessageOne and SWN Communications.) Cinta Putra, CEO and cofounder of the Glendale, Calif.-based application services provider, says the idea for 3N was hatched after 9/11, when she and one of her business partners decided there had to be a more effective way to communicate with all the people displaced following the attacks. "We took that concept—communicating to many—and said it should be as simple as communicating to one," she says.

The companys system, called 3N InstaCom, was launched in October 2003. It allows users to create a voice or text message (or grab a prepared one from a message library), then contact the system by phone or the Internet, which then broadcasts the message to recipients via phone, e-mail, pager, PDA, fax, IM or SMS (short message service). Employees can choose the order of the channel; that is, someone can request to be contacted by cell phone first, then e-mail, then IM and so on. The system can cycle through the channels until it can confirm that the person has been contacted.

One customer, Kenyon International Emergency Services, a disaster and mass-fatality management company, used 3N to get in touch with its staff during the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in December 2004. Using a mass notification system was critical to Kenyon, particularly because the company wasn't sure what kind of telecommunication infrastructure was in place, says Putra. Another customer, ISP EarthLink, used 3N to mobilize its IT staff during Hurricane Jeanne in 2004.

Putra also touts the system's everyday business uses, beyond disaster notification. For example, companies can use it to set up conference calls or notify sales representatives of a product pricing change. She also says that credit card companies are showing interest in using 3N to notify customers if, for example, there was illegal activity on their cards.

A recent report from Gartner speculates that 75 percent of the Global 2000 companies will employ an emergency notification system by the end of 2007. Below are two of the other vendors competing for a slice of the notification marketplace.

Dialogic Communications

www.dccusa.com

The company's flagship notification system is The Communicator. Customers include the New Jersey State Police, Nova Chemicals and JPMorgan Chase.

EnvoyWorldWide

www.envoyworldwide.com

Its Notification Services for Business Continuity contacts customers using any device. Customers include Electric Insurance and Southern California Edison.

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