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How to use mass notification technology for COVID-19

As the coronavirus continues to spread across the United States, daily life has shifted; more people are working from home, and formerly bustling cities are shut down while government takes measures to slow the spread. Amid these changes, public health and safety agencies are increasingly important as they continue to share information with the public and guide them to the right resources -- just as they do in all emergency situations.

However, public safety agencies can no longer rely on traditional communication methods to reach the public. Instead, they should turn to emergency communications technologies, like mass notification systems, to both calm and redirect residents to accurate and up-to-date information.

What is a mass notification system and how does it work?

Mass notification systems are typically platforms that allow a sender to communicate a single message to a large group of people. Usually, this can be done by using email, text, a reverse 911 system -- or a combination of modes. Most higher education institutions, large organizations, schools and state and local governments rely on these systems to communicate with their communities about severe weather, active shooter incidents and other emergencies.

While some organizations automatically enroll employees or students in a mass notification system when they start a job or begin school at a university, many systems are subscription based, meaning people sign up to receive alerts by opting in on a school or city website. Then, when an organization wants to send an alert to the public, the message gets delivered to those who have opted in.

Many mass notification systems offer valuable features -- like automatic updates and simple interfaces -- for sending out messages. In addition, many platforms also offer segmentation, which allows users to split their databases into groups of individuals depending on their role, location or other attributes. This enables public health organizations to send targeted coronavirus alerts to those who are at greater risk for respiratory infections, for example. This feature can help ensure that certain populations get the information they need in emergencies.

In some cases, mass notification can also be used to gather responses from residents to better inform actions taken by public officials. For example, in Louisiana, the Department of Health is using mass notification solutions to not only send out information, but also to collect COVID-related data from residents, such as who is in quarantine. By deploying the polling features that some solutions offer, public health and safety officials can access and analyze data in real-time, which helps them make quicker, more informed decisions.

It’s also important to note that public safety and health agencies are not the only ones who can use mass notification. Amid the current pandemic, unemployment offices, social services, schools and departments of education have also found the tool incredibly helpful in reaching the individuals they serve with the information they need.

Best practices for using mass notifications to communicate about COVID-19

With the coronavirus spreading throughout the country, mass notification systems prove an effective and direct way to communicate with the public, ensuring residents are up to date and have accurate information. When sending information about pressing emergencies, such as the coronavirus public safety officials must:

  • Communicate the facts quickly and often: As the situation continues to evolve, public safety agencies should use mass notifications to provide factual updates as soon as officials have them. This should include confirming the status of cases within their communities as well as current risk levels. By employing mass notification systems, local, state and federal organizations can get the facts to the public and lay any rumors to rest. Keeping residents well informed on the virus will help them to act responsibly in the best interest of the community, containing the spread of both illness and anxiety.
  • Share reliable resources of information: Through mass notification systems, local officials can guide residents to reliable health authorities, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guaranteeing they have the most accurate and up-to-date information about the virus. By sharing this information over a text message, agencies can be certain that the best information is going out to the most residents possible, and the text format makes additional information easy to access with a link sent directly to their phones. Additionally, officials can direct users to local health departments to learn from familiar, trusted voices about measures their communities are taking to fight the virus’ spread.
  • Provide targeted communications: With facts pointing to some segments of the population being at higher risk than others, officials must be able to provide highly targeted communications to these individuals, sharing the precautions they should take and resources available to help them. Additionally, officials can communicate with certain segments of the community based on their geographic location and whether they are self-quarantined.

Coronavirus is putting public safety, health and government officials to the test in every way imaginable. However, by utilizing mass notification systems, officials can provide the public with the information they need to make the best decisions for them and their families.

About the Author

Todd Miller is senior vice president of strategic programs at Rave Mobile Safety.


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