emergency SMS text alert
Your company or organization just invested in a new, state-of-the-art Emergency Notification System. You worked with your vendor to set it up and are feeling good about the time and resources you put into this very important project. Moving forward, should any type of emergency arise, all who need to know will be notified in seconds and they will now how to respond to the message, right?

Possibly, but in order to make sure the new system does what you want and expect it to do, you need to test it. So where do you start?

Who Should You Test Your Emergency Notification System With?

After the system is set up and enabled, it is a good idea to test it to a small subset of your audience. You can start with testing to the team that worked on the new system, but eventually testing to a small group that is representative of your total audience (members of different departments, people in different office buildings, customers in different areas) will allow you to see the system in action on a more realistic level.

Once the system runs clean to your small group, it’s time to test it to everyone. This is very important. We know you don’t want to be an inconvenience to users, but every system needs to be thoroughly tested with all users and all methods (voice, email, SMS). You need to find out if there are any holes in the system during a test, and not wait to find out during a real emergency. Everyone and endpoint should be tested.

Some of the top things that you should be testing for include:

  1. Making sure retries are working and using the right intervals between notifications (i.e., if you call out and the first try results in a busy, make sure the retry is performed when it is supposed to be – not at 1am or some odd time)
  2. Ensuring language-specific messages are indeed going to speakers of that language.
  3. Testing emergency stop of outbound campaign. Your system should allow you to stop the campaign immediately if there’s a problem with the message content or anything else.

With every test of your system, run it through all the channels you plan on utilizing in a real emergency, including email, phone calls, texts and push notifications.

Should You Announce Your Test To User Ahead Of Time?

Ideally when you test your new Emergency Notification System you would do so under the most realistic circumstances possible. Don’t give anyone a head’s up that it is coming. Don’t wait for a day or time that you think is most convenient to your users.Just go ahead and test the system. But we understand that some organizations may not be able to test the system in this manner.

Many organizations will give users a head’s up that at some point in the future the new Emergency Notification System will be getting a test run, but they do not specify a time or date. This type of message can be useful because it can include important information, including:

  • That there have been changes to the system
  • How to sign up for notifications (or change your settings)
  • What types of notifications the new system will be pushing out
  • How to find out more information on how the organization will be using the system

A warning message like this will also get users talking about the system, and if, after a while, they do not receive an emergency message, they will let you know. This can help bring holes within the system (i.e., rooms in the building where WiFi does not reach – so emergency notices do not get to any users there) to your attention.

It’s important to keep in mind that if there are any hiccups with your Emergency Notification System, they are most likely to be uncovered when testing is done as if there is a real emergency (i.e., unannounced, to all users), or during an actual emergency. That is why even the person kicking off the notification should be surprised and given only a few minutes to start the process. This uncovers delays and improvement areas, such as if the person has the login  information readily available, or if she has to go find it.

When Should You Test Your Emergency Notification System?

Mass Notifications & Alerts Icon

Mass Notifications & Alerts
Custom-designed notification systems communicate urgent messages across all channels, to any number of people.

Discovery Possibilities

To make sure you learn the most about your new system, test it at an unexpected time. The less obvious the time is, the more likely users will be involved in normal situations, which will provide the best feedback for how effective the system is set up.

One caveat: we do not recommend testing a non-emergency system at inconvenient times for customers. For example, if you are testing the system to your customer base, don’t have texts or phone calls go out at times when they are sleeping or on holidays. They will definitely not appreciate being interrupted.

What Should Your Test Message Contain?

When testing your system, users definitely need to know that what they are receiving is a test. That should be obvious from the moment the message starts (whether with a headline that reads “THIS IS ONLY A TEST” or a voice recording that states the same).

But the message should also contain information that is as close to what a real life emergency message would have. By doing this you can check to see how the message actually is received by users (i.e., if the messages are being truncating into multiple messages). You also want to test responses, as well as texts to people in every part of the building, different buildings or different cities.

Last Bit Of Advice When Testing Your Emergency Notification System

It’s a good idea to use a system that allows people to acknowledge the system. This way you can collect data on how people are using it (i.e., who is receiving messages, how quickly are they responding).

A last bit of advice for those tasked with setting up and managing an Emergency Notification System – make sure your new system has an emergency ‘STOP’ on it. You want to have the ability to cease an outbound campaign immediately for any reason. This could be that the wrong message was sent, the emergency has ended or that it was going to the wrong users.

Is it time for your organization to update their Emergency Notification System? Have questions regarding what may be the best system for you? Give DiRAD a call. We’re happy to walk you through how today’s technology can be an important part of your organization’s entire emergency plan.

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