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Evolution Of Emergency Notification — Part 2: Integration, Social Media & Mobile

Social media and advanced mobile applications are among the tools companies are using for emergency notification purposes.

Social media and advanced mobile applications are among the tools companies are using for emergency notification purposes.

There is immense power in having event-driven alerts delivered to a group of any size with no human intervention. When integrating with third-party enterprise applications and systems, onsite solutions offer the highest level of security with tangible operational value — something that is difficult to achieve in a hosted deployment.

For many third-party systems integration is only possible with an onsite solution. Business support systems are generally located behind a corporate firewall and are therefore meant to be unreachable by any system on the Internet. Security teams are increasingly tightening restrictions as a result of more directed and costly intrusions, making outside integration challenging.

A wide variety of traditional integration methods such as CLI, COM Object and JAVA, along with gateways for everything from SNPP and SNMP to TAP, are currently used and supported by some vendors. In one installation these can be used to create a single, diversified notification platform for a multitude of applications throughout the entire organization.

Many systems such as fire safety or building management have limited external communication features. In these cases a local, hard connection may be the only solution for automated alerting on a large scale. Imagine having a fire alarm go off in a data center in Dallas and, without anyone having to do anything, personnel are alerted all over the country in a matter of minutes. This leaves the onsite staff more bandwidth to deal with the emergency while others launch contingency plans.  

One of the family of integration technologies gaining in popularity is Web Services — both SOAP and REST. There is a proliferation of software vendors now supporting these technologies.

Web Services using SOAP allows integration with an increasing number of backend systems, along with REST interfaces to further increase the integration possibilities with any application, especially Internet systems. When available, REST services are preferred over SOAP due to their simplicity. With a straightforward, extensible framework they are ideal for exposing the business services as REST-like services.

Consider the advantage of having your notification system integrated into your network infrastructure, important applications, fire safety and building managements systems. You can be notified in real-time, of any incident important to your group with immediate knowledge of major network issues, alarms or intrusions. 

Social Media Plugged In

Social media has emerged as a powerful means of communication during a crisis and is no longer only a corporate marketing tool. As such, social media can be used to complement existing notification systems.One method of integrating social media with notification systems involves using a social media platform as an information outlet for a central messaging platform, allowing messages to be sent to the platform as easily as sending a text message to a phone. For this method to be stable, full integration with social media APIs is necessary.

Because there is no way for two-way confirmation or one-to-one communication, social media is not appropriate for staff activation or as a high-level decision support conduit. Instead, it should be an integral part of an organization’s planned media response. Social media can provide an easy way to provide informational updates to a base of stakeholders, employees or even the general public for awareness. It has been shown to be viable in government for public safety as demonstrated by the earthquake in Japan and numerous instances in smaller situations. But, in a corporate environment for disaster recovery, its use is still being defined. 

While social media has proven useful, it has considerable drawbacks with overall control and content approval. Examples include sites that have been spoofed and postings that have either inaccurate information or content not ready for release.

It should also be noted that while popular social media platforms improve performance on a continual basis, they are not immune to over-capacity failures or outages. In these cases over reliance on the technology can cause problems for a BC/DR department.

Advanced Mobile Applications

First, it was Blackberry — now iPhone, Android, and a variety of tablets are being deployed in the workplace in huge numbers. With the power of faster networks, reduced data costs and strong application control, organizations are embracing mobility. As smartphones have become less about telephony and more about feature-rich computing, a push towards untethered computing has taken place. The challenge many companies face is how to manage this new untethered profile.

A good notification system not only sends messages out, but also provides mobile applications that extend beyond cellular features. With advanced applications, real-time messaging can go to even more devices whether it is a workstation, a feature phone, a smartphone or a tablet with instant notification capability and device presence support.

Thick-client device applications work for all today's mobile devices on the cellular network or Wi-Fi with features for a dedicated inbox with alternative notification tones, settings override for emergency messages with persistence, the ability to control the dispatched notification lifecycle and encrypted SMS. There are many times that message confidentiality is critical with the need to automatically delete alerts after an expiration time.

These advanced two-way applications can also provide a feature-rich set of controls to organizations. Controls include the ability to remotely activate campaigns, and manage mobile devices and the messages on them by remote configuration of settings, such as:

  • Setting permissions and access control.
  • Cleaning data that includes received, sent and saved messages in the private inbox.
  • Revoking a security key.

All of these controls ensure smooth operations — even if a device is lost or stolen.

Emergency Notification Moving Forward

Every business professional is challenged to find more ways to increase productivity in the organization. Leveraging your notification system to help any department respond faster and manage increasing resource limitations, as well as emergency notification, addresses the mandate for multi-functional systems. One server can serve many masters.

When evaluating an onsite solution versus a hosted keep in mind the more favorable long-term system costs as the software becomes a tangible asset. Most notification vendors provide updates and enhancements at no charge to clients. When every procurement request is scrutinized for benefit versus cost, contribution of asset value via a one-time investment can often be regarded as a smarter decision than sinking funds into recurring annual fees.

A solution that serves the organization both in emergencies and everyday operations — across multiple departments — will ultimately add value to your purchase.


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