Mass notification is a critical program piece for any business continuity practitioner and an area that has evolved quite a bit over the years. 

“After September 11, people started to get on board with the idea of having to notify a lot of people all at once,” Robert Edson, Vice President of Global Sales and Marketing for Mission Mode Solutions, said.  “The industry began to mature after that and understand how businesses could take advantage of the same type of thing.”

Edson said one of the most important things about using a mass communication system is that it can help businesses become more efficient and get back up and running sooner.  It can eliminate the need to make individual phone calls or send individual e-mails when speed is critical.

“The efficiency gained is extraordinary,” Edson said.  “Anyone in the business continuity world will tell you that anything that positively impacts your RTO objectives from an efficiency and effectiveness standpoint is a good thing.”

Whether issues are large or small scale, mass notification helps connect with people who need to be involved in recovery.  This includes senior management and key decision makers, who must be engaged to help improve recovery.

“One of the things you look at from an incident management platform is that events range in size and scope,” Edson said.  “It could be something minor like an e-mail outage or a simple facility issue or it could be a severe event.  You have to communicate with people who are able to make decisions the fact that you have had some event that requires there attention and you need to be able to work with them throughout the process.”

While notification and communication are important, Edson cautioned that they are just one step in the life cycle of an incident management plan.

“Notification is and should be a step or several steps along the incident management lifecycle,”  “Notification is a point in time, not a lifecycle in and of itself and that’s one of the struggles we have in this industry is helping people understand that notification is not the be-all end-all, it’s a piece of the incident management lifecycle.”

Still, he said the desire to improve communications is one of the most common things to come out of business continuity exercises.

“Ninety percent of the time, one of the things that comes out of an exercise as an area of improvement is communications,” Edson said.  “It’s not just notification, its oftentimes communication and cooperation with management.”

On the subject of social media, Edson said it can be an excellent mass communications tool that can reach a large audience.  However, he said it comes with risks as well.  Companies that use social media run the risk of their messages being seen by someone they don’t know or trust.

“Social media is an interesting animal and you have two sides of the coin when dealing with it,” Edson said.  “You have the ability to reach a large audience in a short period of time with a replicable message about something going on.  That’s exactly the same reason it is a risk, reputational or otherwise, to an organization.  Because you can reach so many people, the message must be accurate, secure and correct.  Once it’s out there it’s out there and there is no way of getting it back.”

He also brought up the importance of using a notification system even during small scale problems as it can help improve response during big disasters.  He also said it helps communicate to management the importance of investing in such a system.

“One of the things that business continuity struggles with as an industry is the view of executives that it is a cost center, not a potential revenue source,” Edson said.  “When you utilize an application every day, you’re not only creating a culture of preparedness and awareness, you are significantly improving the ROI on the tool.”