How Emergency Notifications Work

Mass alert systems warn people of incoming storms. See more pictures of storms.

Technology keeps us informed and in touch like never before. Think about the technology we use every day compared to 20 years ago: e-mail, instant messaging, pocket cell phones, SMS (text) messaging, PDAs. . .the list goes on. We already know this technology can increase connectivity and productivity, but did you know they can also save lives during an emergency?

In this article, we will talk about emergency not­ifications, defined as any message -- delivered over any device or platform -- intended to warn large groups of people about impending or existing danger.

Poor communication is often to blame for turning an emergency into a catastrophe. Think of the confusion and communication breakdowns that plagued emergency workers during the World Trade Center attacks. Or a 2003 California wildfire where 17 people died because firefighters had to go door-to-door telling residents to evacuate.

In recent years, an entire industry has emerged to fill the communication gaps created by natural and manmade emergencies. These "mass notification" or "emergency notification" services offer everything from powerful outdoor broadcasting systems to automated electronic notifications sent via e-mail, cell phones and PDAs.

Corporations are signing up with these subscription services to fulfill new federal requirements for disaster recovery plans. Schools and colleges are safeguarding students and reassuring parents with campus-wide alert systems. Municipalities are offering automated emergency alerts that citizens can opt to receive via e-mail, phone or text message.

In this article, we're going to divide emergency notifications into two general categories: non-discriminating warnings and targeted alerts. Read on to learn more about how non-discriminating emergency notifications work.