From blizzards to terrorism, there’s been no shortage of high-profile crisis situations in the news of late. Many schools, K-12 through Higher Ed, are either shopping for a notification service or evaluating the one they currently use. As a veteran of the notification industry, I often get asked whether or not there is really much difference between one service and another. Don’t they all send phone, text and email messages quickly? Yes…. And no. Let me clarify. Yes, they all send “multi-modal” messages (text, email, phone generally) but there are not-so-subtle differences as well. And the differences can be stark and important, especially in a crisis. Read on for some of the differentiating factors that are important to schools in particular.
No rocket science required.
It shouldn’t require hours of time and a team of IT experts to set-up and maintain a notification system. Parents should be able to update their own information on-line using simple forms. They shouldn’t have to send or receive multiple messages to opt-in to receive text messages. Make sure the interface is simple, intuitive and doesn’t require Silicon Valley experience to navigate.
Anticipate all the ways you might use the service before committing to one.
The right school notification service will be versatile, with features that make it ideal for use beyond school closings and emergencies. Consider your need for recruiting substitute teachers or volunteers. Some notification systems handle this task very well with features that enable it to call contacts one at a time and allow them to respond to the question/request with a keypad response before calling the next person on the list. This alleviates the problem of getting TOO many affirmative responses and having to return calls and say “thanks, but no thanks”, a situation that costs time and goodwill, and never bodes well for future recruiting efforts.
A powerful notification feature many schools aren’t even aware of is the ability for the call recipient (typically a parent) to transfer from the call they receive to a live person, all with a tap of their key pad. This is particularly useful in situations where questions might be generated from the call. Class ring sales is a good example. If a parent has a question, they can press “1” on their phone and the call automatically transfers to the class ring vendor for questions. No programming required and no flood of calls coming in to the school office!
Don’t reinvent the wheel – or the message – every time.
No one really likes recording a message that will be heard (potentially) by thousands. It’s typical to worry when typing one as well. Will I misspell a word? Miss a comma? These messages are going to educators after all. Emergency situations increase the pressure ten-fold. Make sure the notification service you choose allows you the opportunity to save and re-use your messages. A library of messages already on-hand can save time and ease the worry of creating a message that is in some way incorrect or incomplete.
Notification systems can play a key role in a good overall communication plan for schools. If they’re versatile enough they can handle a range of communications needs, from emergency to routine. But there are differences between the services, and it’s important to consider all the potential uses as you evaluate the options. Then, whether you are dealing with a tornado warning or a class ring sale, your communication needs are covered.