Message Received

Message Received

Technologies have changed in the industry for the better

There is little debate as to whether the introduction of new emergency communications technologies have changed the industry for the better. New technologies allow first responders to have more information available to them, making them better prepared when responding to emergencies. Response times have also decreased thanks to more accurate location data, better information and quicker communications.

Important Information

Similarly, there are also more channels to reach the public than ever before, which makes it easier to get residents important information in the event of severe weather, active shooter incidents or other emergencies.

Yet, even with all the new modes of communicating with each other and the public, emergency officials still are faced with the challenge of making sure their messages are received. People are often overwhelmed with the amount of information they receive on a daily basis, making it hard to ensure important messages are received. This is especially true of those on college campuses or in schools, where students are always connected and digesting mass amounts of information day in and day out—from sources that may or may not be reputable.

This factor makes segmentation features a crucial aspect to today’s new emergency technologies. The ability to segment populations can help avoid alert fatigue, ensure the message gets to the correct people and build credibility as an institution.

Information Overload

On average, Americans spend more than 11 hours a day consuming some form of media. We send and receive about 94 text messages and receive about 122 emails every day.

We are living in an age of information and message overload. With so many different communications being sent and received across multiple channels and platforms, it is easy to become numb to auto-messages from organizations, especially when they are not relevant to the recipient.

On college campuses where students are also burdened with classes, homework, friends and extracurricular activities, it can be even more of a challenge to get messages read in the first place, never mind ensuring the information is digested and understood. However, in times of emergencies, like severe weather or an active assailant, these messages can be critical to a student’s safety and wellbeing.

Cut Through the Noise

Higher education institutions and other organizations should want to give people enough information without overwhelming them to the point of tuning the messages off or even unsubscribing. More sophisticated emergency notification technologies have developed segmentation capabilities to accomplish this feat.

Segmentation allows institutions to split their databases into groups of individuals depending on their role, location or other attributes. By dividing a population into segmented groups, organizations reduce the number of messages sent and received, while also ensuring the message is relevant to those receiving it. If messages are not relevant, it becomes easier to ignore them. However, if only the people who need the message are targeted, it increases the likelihood that the message will be received, and the information will be acted upon.

Maximizing the open rates of messages can be incredibly important on campuses, especially during emergency situations. In the case of the Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC), the school was able to keep students, staff and faculty informed during Hurricane Florence through their use of group segmentation. While everyone received general weather updates on a regular basis, they split their audience into unique groups which led to higher engagement, so more people got the information relevant to their safety. Students were sent messages assuring them of their safety and keeping them informed with updates relevant to the area where they lived. Meanwhile, on-site medical center staff were sent separate notifications about sleeping accommodations, complimentary meals and off-duty activities such as movies and karaoke.

Likewise, message design should also be consistent and appropriate to the given audience. When inboxes are overflowing with messages that look and feel similar, a distinct message will stand out, increasing the likelihood that recipients will pay attention to it. Design is a critical aspect in signaling to recipients a message is important and issued by a trusted source.

Build Credibility and Deliver the Right Message to the Right People

By only sending relevant messages, organizations not only increase safety on campus, but also build credibility with the community they serve.

Too many general messages that only relate to a small fraction of the community can often be categorized as spam by recipients. If messages consistently provide useful and relevant information, recipients will learn the message sender can be trusted and should be paid attention to. Segmentation also allows institutions to spoon feed rather than firehose information: by giving just enough information and allowing students to figure out what action they need to take next, such as evacuate or shelter in place, they become more engaged in the messages and their safety.

Reliability is key to building credibility. Guaranteeing the message will be delivered no matter what channel or where students and staff may be located on campus, can make a difference in not only protecting students, but also having them trust the institution and the message they are sending. For example, MUSC encouraged the students and staff to register a secondary, non-university affiliated email address on their alerting system. Having this type of backup system in place ensured that community members still received updates regardless if they were logged into a campus email. A notification during an emergency is only effective if it is received, read and acted upon by the recipient. Getting the right message to the right people at the right time is critical to ensuring good outcomes for organizations and the people they are responsible for protecting. With the right plan and technology in place, organizations can better protect the communities that rely on them every day.

This article originally appeared in the January / February 2020 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.

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