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The 2011 calendar has closed on what many are calling the “Year of Disasters.” The United States set a record with 12 separate billion dollar weather/climate disasters in 2011, with an aggregate damage total of approximately $52 billion, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. These incidents have prompted many organizations to reconsider the human element during a crisis or major news event, and evaluate how they communicate with employees, suppliers, investors, and customers.

Emergency and mass notification systems are designed to help organizations communicate to stakeholders during an incident or disruption. However, in response to the high occurrence of prominent disasters in recent years, the marketplace has been flooded with products to address emergency and mass notification needs. The need to diligently evaluate vendors is critical to ensure that services will meet an organization’s specific requirements, says SunGard Availability Services.

“During an incident, organizations need rapid, effective communications to make sure they can manage the situation, reduce confusion and get back to normal operations,” says Tracey Forbes, vice-president of software business development, SunGard Availability Services. “Not all automated notification systems are the same, but most organizations are unclear about how to evaluate the myriad offerings that exist in the marketplace. A business should evaluate systems based on best-in-class capabilities while considering its unique needs.”

To keep in touch with personnel, deliver critical messages, and send and receive vital information during a crisis, SunGard offers these seven key considerations to use during an evaluation of emergency notification systems:
 
 
1. Performance. An organization may need to alert tens, hundreds, or thousands of people affected by an event. Look at a notification system’s track record of actual performance during real events. How many messages are sent through the network per month and year? What is the system’s capacity potential across multiple notification touch-points simultaneously, such as voice, SMS, and email messaging? Compare the results to assess the performance capabilities that you need.
 
 
2. Reliability. A solution provider’s guarantee for network uptime is a critical consideration. Anything less than 99.99% may not provide the needed reliability. Reliability also needs to extend to message delivery. What’s the delivery performance service level agreement? Do they provide a guaranteed minimum throughput in a timeframe specified by the customer? Does the system capacity model allow for the ability to burst beyond your service level? Can the vendor delivery platform manage the capacity needed to meet your requirements?

3. Business continuity management integration.
In most organizations, people come and go—and staying synchronized with those changes is a difficult chore. An emergency notification system should integrate and synchronize with employee, team, and call list information already created and stored in the business continuity management software. This approach not only eliminates the need to keep two data sources, but also helps ensure the organization is working from a unified continuity planning strategy.
 
 
4. Security. From employee contact information to the messages communicated during a crisis, content held within an emergency and mass notification system is likely confidential. A system must have state-of-the-art security capabilities, such as a geographically redundant infrastructure that includes data encryption and reliable network security. Look for third-party certifications such as ISO/IEC 27001 to ensure the vendor has an established program in place to manage information security controls.
 
 
5. Communication options. More than one communication path most likely will be needed to reach all the people in the organization. Ensure that the emergency and mass notification system has a range of message delivery options, including personal devices such as email, smart phones, pager (one-way or two-way), mobile phone/landline, SMS and fax, as well as mass alerting devices such as sirens, loud speakers, and digital display boards.
 
 
6. Interactive Communication. Two-way communication is essential in a crisis, allowing communication to and fromet employees. Employee responses can help ensure their safety and make educated decisions—such as activating back-up personnel plans if employees are unavailable, which can limit downtime and revenue loss by speeding time to recovery.
 
 
7. Global Capabilities. Many organizations operate internationally, and it is essential for these companies that emergency and mass notification capabilities span the globe. A notification system vendor should be able to manage carrier-to-carrier and country-to-country complexities. Considerations should include reach (countries supported), voice/text management (global delivery complexities as it relates to voice and SMS communication), and languages (ability to record messages, have recorded prompts and TTS languages). Look for a notification system provider that has the global delivery experience and expertise managing multiple international standards and protocols.

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