Technology answers crisis call

Montreal-based financial services firm Standard Life invested in a mass notification system last year in a bid to strengthen its business continuity and emergency response program.

Mass notification systems that allow you to send messages to a large group of people within minutes, have been getting traction among organizations as part of their emergency planning strategy.

Montreal-based financial services firm Standard Life invested in a mass notification system last year in a bid to strengthen its business continuity and emergency response program.

“The main reason we have the business continuity program at Standard Life is to protect our main asset — that’s our employees — and to be able to continue service to our clients,” says Elaine Comeau, manager of business continuity and emergency procedure at Standard Life.

The company wanted a system that will allow it to immediately send notifications to employees in the event of an emergency, without manually calling each of them, a cumbersome feat for a company of about 2,000 employees.

Standard Life uses mass notification application from 3n, through a software-as-a-service model (SaaS). The SaaS model enables users to use the system without having to invest in additional technology infrastructure. 3n hosts the application and users access the system through a web-based interface. As opposed to purchasing and maintaining an entire system, SaaS users only pay a subscription fee to use the application.

Comeau says the mass notification system allows them to send out a message to all or a group of Standard Life employees within minutes, and get confirmation of receipt of the message. The message can be sent out through various ways, depending on the employees’ communication preference — landline, mobile phone, e-mail or pager.

Aside from the cost benefit, the hosted application also appealed to Standard Life because it’s independent of their internal systems, says Comeau. “So if we had a disaster in our data centre, where we host all our mainframes and our hardware, we want to be able to continue to contact our employees.”

Standard Life uses PeopleSoft database to maintain all updated employee information. This database is uploaded to the mass notification system, which then allows it to send messages to the employees’ contact preference.

Standard Life also uses the system when conducting regular emergency preparedness exercises, Comeau says.

“We were looking at pandemic situation, so if there’s a pandemic in Canada or in Montreal, we need to find and keep in touch with our employees,” she says.

The system can be programmed with specific questions and allows for two-way communication where the employee can send a response back.
Regulated industries, such as financial institutions, are typically big adopters of mass notification systems, says Marc Ladin, vice-president of global marketing for 3n.

But other industries are also slowly starting to adopt especially as a result of some type of emergency occurring that made people realize the need for such a system in place, he says.

An example was the tragic Virginia Tech shooting in 2007. Before that incident, the adoption rate of mass notification systems among colleges and universities was less than 10 per cent. Today, almost 50 per cent of colleges and universities in the U.S. have some form of mass notification system in place, says Ladin.

“The business is really being driven by the fact that people realize it’ important in any type crisis situation or incident management to have the ability to communicate. Because all response and recovery activities are driven by communication and if you don’t have the ability to communicate, you’re pretty much dead in the water,” the 3n executive says.