Healthcare Alerting and Personal Safety - Where are we now?
An emergency notification system (ENS) is a must-have emergency management tool for healthcare authorities across North America. It’s exceptionally common to see an organization advertising their alert system with something to the effect of “sign up here to receive emergency alerts” where staff and patients are offered a plethora of notification options.
It’s a reality at hospitals; emergencies will happen, and the organization must have a way to contact you when an important or emergency situation arises. How you receive alerts as a staff member is dependent on the options the organization has purchased.
The offerings of emergency notification systems vary greatly. Whether you’re looking for mass text messages, desktop alerts, website activation, or another alerting mechanism, there are vendors “out there” who offer some part of the puzzle to a broader alerting capability. As an example, AppArmor Alert, can even aggregate dozens of mechanisms in one cloud dashboard. Regardless, the in-market options give your organization great control over how aggressively and how targeted to issue your alerts.
Often overlooked in these deployments of emergency notification systems is the value of a “custom mobile safety app”. Android and iOS organizationally branded safety apps provide a myriad of benefits, but sometimes the organization will fail to see the value as the stakeholders are less familiar with apps themselves.
Or what’s worse, some organizations may opt for “generic” or “vendor branded” apps that only act as a mass notification endpoint with limited or no functionality. As these kinds of apps get very few downloads, the entire concept of a mobile safety app can be accidentally spoiled due to a rushed or partially-evaluated decision.
Custom branded safety apps allow for a number of keen benefits versus other forms of notification and are certainly an essential part of any emergency notification system. For instance, the mass notification tool (push notifications) are instantaneous. All targeted end users will be reached in one to five seconds, regardless of payload size. This varies significantly from other forms of emergency notifications, such as SMS for instance, in which text messages are sent out at a certain “pace” (e.g. 500 text messages a second).
"The push notification service through AppArmor is much quicker compared to other mass notification platforms allowing for timely and efficient crisis communication. During an emergency, rapid communication can literally save lives."
Push notifications travel over both the WiFi and cellular network; again, in comparison to SMS messages which can only be transmitted over the cellular network, this provides a significant advantage in the form of improved accessibility (users on WiFi will still get the push, whereas they wouldn’t receive the SMS) and messages can avoid network traffic.
Pushes also perform an absolutely essential function to which all emergency managers can relate. In any emergency notification, it is very important to drive users to a correct “source of truth” endpoint. There users can get the full picture despite the fact that the alert may only have a brief message about the emergency. This is particularly where push notifications thrive versus other forms of alerts; the push notifications drive users into the custom branded safety app where they can get timely, relevant and accurate data in an emergency. We highlighted this behaviour in our COVID-19 case study here.
Lastly, custom mobile safety apps provide additional value to users in the form of advanced functionality. Whether it’s the ability to send your location to a friend in real-time, offline-ready emergency plans, suspicious activity reporting, or simply contact options for the authorities, quality mobile safety apps will provide more value than simply a notification endpoint.
Now of course, like all mechanisms, push notifications have their own drawbacks. They are always “opt in,” in that users have to go to the popular application stores (Google Play or Apple AppStore or the private Appstores in some cases) to download and sign up for the push notifications through the app. However, custom branded safety apps that are specifically branded to the institution, like those made by AppArmor, get 50 to 100 times more downloads than the previously mentioned “generic” or “vendor branded” apps.
Custom mobile safety apps also require that end users have a smartphone which not all users necessarily have (although an overwhelming number of individuals do have a smartphone). This is why a mobile safety app is part of and not a replacement for an entire alerting system. Safety apps can accommodate both personal and company issued devices.
Custom Mobile Safety Apps and Active Responses to Crises
Custom branded mobile safety apps are also ideal tools to respond to a fluid situation. For instance, the AppArmor Safety app platform has a content management system where app content and features can be modified in real-time (versus other solutions which require a re-submission to Apple and Google for updates). This real-time content can be absolutely essential in a crisis.
In 2017, when Hurricane Irma was threatening Tallahassee, Florida State University’s (and their associated hospitals) Emergency Management team knew that providing accurate, timely, and effective communication to prepare their campus community was critical. Emergency management personnel were looking to bridge the communication gap between real-time updates on social media and the limited resources a static website could provide.
As the hurricane intensified and a direct hit to FSU seemed imminent, the community braced for impact and were looking for answers. Community members found them buzzing in their pocket on the SeminoleSAFE mobile app.
During Irma, FSU created a specific ‘Tropical Storms & Hurricanes’ button and pushed real-time updates directly to the app. The content included what to do before, during, and after the storm, nearby shelter locations, and other critical information of what to do during the storm. What’s more, other AppArmor organizations in the area replicated the approach at FSU to provide a detailed and comprehensive response to the regional threat.
You can read the rest of our case study on the topic here.
The Next Generation of Emergency Notifications via Mobile Apps
Push notifications also get the added advantage of being part of a quickly growing technology market of smartphone devices. As these devices and their operating systems get more powerful, so too do the push notifications and other app features.
One keen example of innovations that are difficult or impossible on other alerting mechanisms is Geo-Located push notifications. Simply put, this offers a way for your emergency management group to send push notifications to users that are inside a geo-fence at the time an alert is sent. While there is a similar ability for text messages, push notifications work globally whereas text messages can be restricted based on both the country’s telecommunication providers and the laws of that jurisdiction. There are other complications with SMS geo-location as well, such as the ever-changing rules of telecommunication governing bodies.
Aside from push notifications, indoor location tracking — even in multi-storey buildings — is becoming an increasingly popular capability, particularly with the deployment of 5G. For instance, the AppArmor Safety app platform can offer the institution the ability to identify a user’s building and floor location in the event a panic button is triggered via the app. There are numerous ways this is accomplished; whether by wireless access points or “beacons,” it is entirely possible to track a user in a building as they flee an emergency.
The Most Affordable and Effective Way to Supplement your Alerts
Custom mobile safety apps offer an essential, life saving mechanism to alert end users in the event of an emergency. The combination of push notifications, real-time and accurate content, and an increasingly powerful platform make custom mobile safety apps a must-have at healthcare facilities.