Day after day, world headlines remind us that even in our most comfortable environments, safety is not a guarantee. In recent years, nearly every school and business has adopted a text or push notification system that alerts people of unfolding situations. And while that process is good, it’s not good enough.
Our latest Business Impact Workshop brought us to Singlewire Software, which develops notification programs that instantly reach not only cell phones, but also landline phones, desktops, and digital signage displays, maximizing the chance that every last person in danger will be able to get out of harm’s way.
Here’s what we learned from our illuminating conversation with Pat Scheckel, Singlewire’s EVP of Product Management and Marketing.
You’re probably already familiar with push notifications, even if you’ve (thankfully!) never been on the receiving end of an emergency alert. They’re most frequently deployed by social media apps letting you know that someone’s messaged you or commented on a photo.
“Today, many customers are coming to us looking for emergency notifications for cases like an active shooter, severe weather, and workplace violence,” Schekel said, adding that some industries deal with near-daily frightening incidents. “In healthcare, there is an astonishing amount of violence against caregivers. They’re assaulted at really high rates.”
Because people so often check their phones, push notifications are a vital tool during times of crisis. They can be life-saving forms of communication. However, Schekel pointed out, expert studies have determined that in emergencies, pushes to cell phones only effectively notify 80% of people.
Why? Because phones are often muted, tucked away in briefcases, in an area with poor reception, left behind while a person is in the bathroom -- as glued as we feel to our phones, we aren’t truly attached at the hip.
Also critical is that countless people potentially at risk may not be within your organization’s network. Push notifications don’t go to every single person in a particular area; the cell phone owner has to specifically subscribe to them. That means visitors, clients, patients, passersby and so on will not receive the emergency alert.
Closing that 20% gap is Singlewire’s most crucial mission. That’s why the company has developed advance pushes that don’t just deploy to cell phones. They also hit just about every possible media channel within the radius, quickly finding that desk phones and desktop computers are highly effective, and usually non-utilized, tools.
With landline phones, “not calling, but broadcasting to them makes a big difference,” Schekel explained. “If the phone is ringing, you have to pick it up to hear the message -- which a lot of people don’t do. So if you can broadcast that phone, turn it into an emergency broadcast speaker, it’s going to be very effective.”
Using loud audio messaging “is very intrusive and grabs your attention,” he said. In some circumstances, everybody may need to be alerted at once. Other situations, such as a one-on-one issue, don’t require a mass notification.
Using Singlewire’s programming, when a person becomes aware of a problem, he or she can simply hit a button on a landline phone or a laptop to instantly signal the correct recipient.
Workplace safety and security is no joke. But you'd be surprised how easy it is to ignore site safety alerts.
Perhaps in part, because we’re all so used to receiving push notifications, Singlewire’s team realized that many people don’t take important messages seriously. That’s especially true when they can’t physically see the problem.
Here’s an example: In a large office building with multiple floors and hundreds of employees, a push notification claims that there’s a fire on floor 5. Without any physical cues or audible signs of distress, many employees on other floors will assume that they’re not in any present danger: “Oh, something probably overheated in a microwave,” “Whatever, the smoke alarms go off all the time”; “If it’s on the fifth floor it’s not going to affect us up here on the 14th.”
For another example, consider a sprawling college campus. Many students are going to naturally assume that wherever the danger is, they’re not near it: “I’m in my dorm room, this clearly doesn’t apply to me;” “This stadium is huge -- it’s probably all the way on the other side.”
These assumptions may or may not be true. The students must continue receiving information to know whether they should get moving or shelter in place.
In legitimately code-red situations, Singlewire makes it impossible for people to ignore or discount word of a problem.
When people get a text notification while the overhead speaker is blaring, their computers are suddenly flashing, the phones are broadcasting, digital signage displays are scrolling text -- nobody is going to ignore that. They’re going to respond accordingly.
There are practical, everyday uses for these notification programs that enhance school and workplace environments. When you install digital signage, for example, it doesn’t need to sit dormant until something terrible happens. Workplace safety and security messages are hopefully rare.
“We have schools that use the system to schedule their bells,” Schekel said. “Another usage is showing shift changes, breaks, safety warnings for manufacturing. In healthcare you see things like workforce notifications: ‘We need an extra half-dozen nurses on Friday night.’ These are ways to make sure your message confirmation is working.”
Perhaps most importantly, leveraging the product in different ways helps build trust. Employees, students, and customers will know that the communication systems work and that in the event of an emergency, they will most certainly be notified.
In an emergency situation, there is no such thing as overkill. Every last method of communication should be utilized in order to protect every last person. There’s no need to wait until something happens to realize you could’ve been better prepared.