Top 5 Non-Emergency Uses For Mass Notification

nec-mass-notificationWhat do you do when you need to deliver time-sensitive information to hundreds, or even thousands of people? Do you have a mass notification system in place to help get the word out quickly and efficiently? There are times when alerts sent to the general population of a hospital, school or business are not only helpful, but necessary. In a hospital setting, implementing a mass notification system extends beyond emergencies – doctors, nurses and administrative staff can also be alerted of shift changes or increased availability. This can be accomplished with little to no effort when a mass notification system is in place. With the systems that are available today, the same message can be broadcast to literally thousands of people. For those messages that need to be dispersed quickly, mass communication sent to personal devices is becoming very popular. Within minutes, an important alert can be sent in a timely fashion to everyone who is affected by the content of the message.
Mass Communication Alerts

Historically, the reason for a mass communication has been emergency related. Mass communication alerts have typically been sent for extreme weather bulletins or when there is a dangerous situation taking place at a specific location, such as a particular building on a campus or business site. While mass notification systems incorporate a variety of response mechanisms to allow educational institutions to improve their communications in the event of an emergency, the systems can also be used to improve the business process of hospitals as well as major corporations.

Now that alerts have become broader in scope, it is becoming more common to see alerts about:

  1. Event Notification: to alert of upcoming, canceled, or even impromptu events
  2. Attendance alerts: in an educational setting, this can alert parents and guardians when a student is tardy or absent.
  3. News Updates: about a particular item that affects the group.
  4. Building Closure: for maintenance reasons or an outage of electricity.
  5. Ad-hoc meetings: when it is necessary to gather a group of individuals

There are multiple methods of communicating messages, from text messages and e-mail alerts to delivering a voice message. Read on to determine the differences and assess for yourself which would be most successful within your organization.

How are messages delivered?

Most systems offer features which allow you to call recipients and leave a pre-recorded message. Seems simple, but on one hand, when a call is received from an unknown phone number, it is often ignored or sent to voice mail. Thus, defeating the whole purpose of the mass notification, as the event may have already taken place once the recipient retrieves the voice mail.  In response to this, some systems have taken steps to alleviate this problem and skip calls altogether and send a text message. This approach could prove more successful, since research shows that when a text is received, it is often checked sooner than a voice mail even from a known caller. It is quicker to check when the phone signal is weak and the receiver can still get the full text message. The New York Times references data from uReach Technologies, who operates the voice messaging systems of a leading wireless provider. The data states that over30 percent of voice messages go unheard for a minimum of three days. But what about wireless subscribers who do not use or even have the ability to send or receive text messages?
This is where multi-modal systems come in and prove to be most effective. Leading manufacturers now offer multi-modal systems, which allow you to use multiple delivery methods to communicate your message. Whether you want to send a voice call, e-mail or text, these multi-modal systems can handle it all. Some systems have the ability to know when a voicemail system answers and can leave a message but also continue to contact other devices simultaneously, avoiding any downtime in getting the word out. Are you the information officer for a large school district and wondering how you will know if students, faculty and parents received your message? Or maybe you work in a hospital setting and you’re experience a staff shortage so you need to alert team members who are not currently in the hospital. How will you know if they’ve received word that they’re needed? Problem solved – when you select a mass notification system that offers full reporting capabilities so you can always keep track of who received your message.
Deploying: Premise-based vs. hosted 
If cost is your major concern, then a premise-based system will prove to be more cost-effective than hosted with delivering mass notification alerts. Emergency notification lends itself to utilizing larger numbers of lines and shared equipment to get critical information out to big groups as rapidly as possible, and in those cases hosted solutions may be ideal.  For ongoing, less time-sensitive communications however, a small investment in technology can lead to large returns in stakeholder experience and loyalty.  By using trunks and lines that are already paid for, in most cases there will be no additional operational expenditure to send these messages. Regardless of your preferred method, it is necessary to take the steps to implement a mass communications system, as early warning is critical since most people in these environments cannot be mobilized easily.

Solving the BYOD Dilemma in Education – Part 2

Part 2-Defining Devices

nec-education-devicesNow that we’ve identified users, let’s take a look at available devices and best application practices. It is critical to keep in mind the differences in the way each of these devices are used.

Laptops: Laptops can be relatively easy to incorporate, as they offer standardized network and Internet access. But are the benefits greater than the risks? Laptops are easy to turn off, and easy to detect on your network. In an educational setting, teachers can clearly monitor laptop usage and if you are designing access to your student portal, creating a website accessible by all operating systems and most browsers is a relatively simple task. On the risk side, however, laptops can be easy vectors for malware and viruses. If left unchecked, these viruses can spread throughout your school infrastructure and affect anyone who is connected.

Smart phones: While voice usage of phones is decreasing sharply among youth, data and text usage is rising – and fast. Take a look here to see how dramatically data services usage is increasing among teens and young adults. Have your schools faced this issue yet? If not, it is likely they will soon, how will you prepare for this?

Smart phones can be difficult to manage on campus due to the fact that there are so many different capabilities and operating systems associated with them. Designing an app for the Apple OS and Blackberry may make most of your staff happy, but what about the percentage who favor Android? Websites, even those designed for mobile devices, have also caused more issues than they resolve for even the most common devices.

Tablets: Similar to laptops, these multi-tasking devices allow for document management, communication and collaboration. Tablets can run a wide range of applications and software, whether it is for educational purposes, general productivity or for entertainment and personal use. Although similar to laptops, tablets tend to be more secure from a virus and malware standpoint, and less useful for writing and collaboration without accessories such as a keyboard. Tablets are associated with a more narrow set of operating systems (e.g., Apple OS or Android), but with Microsoft’s foray into the arena in 2012, and various other vendors such as HP and RIM continuing to fine-tune their own offerings, this may not be the case for much longer.

So where will you go from here? You can see that there’s a lot to consider before moving ahead, and as is the case with most major projects, the more preparation and greater understanding of adapting to your user needs, the better your chances at successful implementation.

Solving the Bring your own device (BYOD) Dilemma in Education

BYOD Part 1-Defining Users

nec-education-communicationsDo you manage IT for an elementary school district, or a college or university? If so, you are undoubtedly seeing more frequent use of personal devices. There is business value in this rapidly growing practice of users wanting to gain access to your network using their device of choice – are you prepared?

When contemplating a solution set or policy switch to a personal device such as a tablet or smartphone, there are some key things to remember. Before you make a decision on what infrastructure to invest in, first look deeper at your users, the devices and available solutions, and then weigh both the benefits and obstacles you will encounter. Keep in mind that each user will require different access, use different devices, and generate their own sets of issues and benefits.

We’ve divided these users into three categories, let’s take a look:

Students: This group will be more invested in new technologies and less willing to use second-rate or “borrowed” tech in the classroom. They also have a deeper desire to be connected and collaborate electronically. The user set within this group varies greatly; for example, middle school students require different solutions and access than high school students. In a university or college setting, graduate students may have different tools available to them than their undergraduate counterparts.

Teachers: Teachers are bringing their own devices into the classroom, and not just for personal use. Tablet and smartphone use to run presentations and manage in-class participation are practically required by some schools. This trend is likely to grow, and determining your teachers’ needs and capabilities is paramount to a successful implementation.

The good news here is that teachers using their own devices can not only save your institution money, but can enhance the educational process for your students. Advanced presentation styles, greater sense of ownership, and “always-on” connectivity with students can help your teachers make a profound connection with their learning community.

Staff: Your administrative staff can be the most vocal and have the most to gain in accessing school systems through personal devices. Allowing access to student data records, attendance charts, personnel forms and other information needed on an ad hoc basis can increase productivity and efficiency tremendously, which can result in less training and more usage with reduced capital investment.

Remember to also include your maintenance and other support teams in this category. Rather than supplying cell phones and paying for usage, why not allow staff to use their own cell phones, or even connect seamlessly with Wi-Fi to your internal PBX, thus saving you mobile charges altogether.

Each of the user types in your environment are unique and should be treated as such. Identifying who will be granted access to your network, and the scope of that access before you make deployment decisions is critical in preventing unnecessary network tampering and security risks. Now that we’ve identified users, the next post will take a look at available devices and best application practices.

Stay Con-NEC-ted with the Unified Campus

unified-campus-resized-600Educational campuses increasingly face new challenges every year as they open their doors to a new group of students that expect more in the way of a technologically advanced institution.  The complexity of the infrastructure to support these demands requires scalability, reliability, and security that are beyond reproach.  NEC, a leading provider and integrator of advanced IT and communication solutions, is poised to provide just what your campus needs to deliver on the ever growing demands faced in the educational environment.

NEC’s Unified Campus Demo provides a look into the simplicity, performance, and reliability of NEC ‘s solutions that are capable of delivering the availability and quality of service that educational institutions require.

Key benefits of building a Unified Campus are:

  • Communication and collaboration among students, faculty and staff via unified communications
  • Creating a safer learning environment through effective emergency communications
  • Achieve pervasive, secure access to university information through the use of efficient, virtualized data center solutions, as well as OpenFlow-based virtual data networks
  • Leveraging campus information to create new fundraising and revenue streams with business intelligence solutions

Learn more about the NEC Unified Campus and what it can do for your organization.

NEC Collaborates with Stanford, Georgia Tech, Raytheon BBN Technologies on OpenFlow Switching

Stanford University's Gates BuildingNEC is at the forefront of research and innovation in the field of OpenFlow networks, an open switching standard developed at Stanford University that enables a new generation of network control software.  Today, attendees at the GEC9 (GENI) conference in Washington, D.C., will be able to see a demonstration of OpenFlow switching conducted in partnership between NEC, Stanford, Geogia Tech and Raytheon BBN Technologies.

NEC now has in limited release it’s ProgrammableFlow switches, which are based on the OpenFlow standard and have been deployed in over 20 research organizations worldwide.

The OpenFlow project at Stanford is part of its Clean Slate Internet Design Program.