Using Location Based Alerts in Emergency Situations

By March 3, 2020 March 5th, 2020 Communications, Emergency Management
Location Based Alerts

When a business’s administrators are communicating with their employees during a crisis, it’s important they have all the tools necessary to ensure quick, accurate, and easy transmission of alerts. One of the most powerful tools included in modern mass communication systems is location-based alerts, which include GPS tracking, map views, and functions like geofencing.

Location is a primary factor in determining who is at risk in an emergency, so being able to receive and send that information is critical in a wide variety of events.

What Are Location Based Alerts?

Location based alerts are, simply, alerts that leverage location data to determine their audience. If you get an emergency weather alert, for example, based on the city you’re in—that’s a location based alert.

Smartphone apps can figure out a person’s location using GPS and cellular signal technology. For example, popular map apps employ these services to show you where you are and where you’re going. There are also standalone GPS sensors that you can buy and attach to objects for easy tracking, no smartphone required. Location can also be determined by more low-tech methods, such as a simple list of employee addresses.

Using different types of location data allows the alert to be targeted to a much more specific relevant audience. Modern emergency notification systems should be able to use all of these techniques.

Why Use Location Based Alerts in Emergency Situations

Many emergencies your business might face won’t threaten your entire company. For example, say one of your satellite offices experiences a power outage. You would like the employees stationed at the affected office to work remotely for the day. If you took a location-blind approach to this, you may inadvertently end up sending your entire company home. Additionally, many crisis scenarios are high-stress events. By using location based alerts, you can carefully target your audience based on geographic location and avoid excess panic and worry.

Using Maps in an Emergency

Perhaps the most obvious way to gather location data is through a map view. Maps are incredibly powerful because they can show you at-a-glance where problems are as well as the people and places that might be impacted by them. In the heat of the moment, you might have trouble remembering which office is where, and keeping track of your employees’ locations in your head is impossible. But with a map, you can access all this information instantly.

Maps allow you to distribute alerts with surgical precision. Some emergencies, such as wildfires, affect locations unpredictably. Fires can meet barriers like roads or bodies of water and stop in their tracks. So one employee might live less than a mile from another and the impacts they see could be very different. It’s important to be able to match that unpredictability with accuracy. By using a map with both emergency information and employee locations, you can see who’s at danger with just a glance through the maps’s employee incident tracking capabilities.

Finally, maps are perfectly suited to include weather data. We already use maps to display how storms and other dangerous weather patterns move. Layering that on top of your existing location data can be extremely valuable. With this synergy you can easily determine who is at risk of encountering bad weather and send location based alerts accordingly. When researching which emergency alert system is right for you, be sure to look for products that include these essential map features.

Employee Data to Consider

Physical Location

The first and most basic kind of location information might already be in your HCM system. Most modern emergency communication systems allow you to import employee location data, such as their home address and office location, as well as their contact information. This can allow you to make educated guesses about where your employees are and what notifications may or may not be relevant to them. Keep in mind that this information is static and will not change unless updated in your system of record.

RFID Check-in

One of the most popular security tools in offices around the world today are RFID-enabled ID cards. You’ve probably come across these before: credit card-sized plastic rectangles that employees can use to unlock doors electronically, clock in to work, or access business systems. By integrating your RFID system with your ENS, you can get real-time updates on employee location and know when your people enter or leave a location. Your emergency communication system should be able to send location-based alerts using this RFID check-in data.

Travel Schedules

Any worthwhile emergency communication system should not only be able to protect your employees while at their desks, but while they’re traveling for work as well. One way to easily import travel data is by integrating your employee notification system with your business’s Corporate Travel Management system, which will automatically update your traveling employees’ locations. You can rest assured that you’ll be able to send accurate, relevant alerts to your workforce no matter their location.

Mobile App / GPS Services

These days, about 81% of Americans use some kind of smartphone. These phones are equipped with GPS modules that can transmit geographic coordinates in real-time. This is enhanced by the fact that most people carry their cell phones with them at all times, increasing accuracy. With your emergency notification app, you can tap into this wealth of GPS information to automatically track where your employees are. Luckily, if any of your employees are not comfortable with that, they should be able to opt-out of GPS tracking, ensuring that everyone is happy with their service.

GPS data is the most reliable source for location-based alerts. While the other sources of location data are good approximations, they are all, to some extent, ways of checking where someone is “supposed” to be. GPS data, by contrast, checks the person’s real-time location—whether they are “supposed” to be there or not. For this reason, you should rely on GPS data whenever possible.

Geofencing

Having access to location data is only half the battle, though. You also need a way to send alerts ­based on that location data. The best way to accomplish this is through geofencing. With geofencing, you can quickly and intuitively choose your notification’s audience with just a click and a drag.

Geofencing allows you to draw a “fence” around a particular area of the map. The system then automatically includes everyone in that area in the audience. This can be incredibly useful when you have to immediately send out a notification to those affected by, say, a flash flood. You may not have time to think about which of your groups or locations you should include in your notification. But if you’re using a robust notification system with geofencing, you can quickly draw a circle on the map around the affected area, including everyone you need to and excluding everyone you don’t on just one screen.

Location Data in Emergency Situations

Sending a geo-targeted message

Intelligent Location Based Alerts

To this point, we have assumed that there is some specific reason that you know you need to send an alert. This might sound obvious, but realistically this often won’t be the case—or at least not quickly.

Consider the tragic case of the Las Vegas shooting. As soon as the gunman opened fire, thousands of lives were at risk. In a situation like this, you need—immediately—to communicate with any employees in Las Vegas, telling them to take cover inside and avoid the festival area.

If you happened to be watching the news late that Sunday evening, you could do just what we have described in this article. You could open up your emergency communication system, draw a geofencing circle around Las Vegas, and send a location based alert to everyone at risk.

But how likely is that? If you were on the East Coast, the shooting started a little after 1:00 am, early Monday morning. The fact is, it’s very unlikely that you would be fortunate enough to be monitoring the news at the time. If you rely on your own ability to monitor threats manually, the alert wouldn’t go out until the next morning—far too late.

Intelligent location based alerts solve this problem. Threat monitoring systems, like AlertMedia’s, are constantly looking for threats worldwide. Whenever a threat emerges, the system immediately cross-references the location of the threat with the location of your people and assets. Then, the system automatically sends a threat warning—either to you or to your people directly. (You decide which threats merit a direct notification to your employees. For example, you can specify that the system should only send an alert directly  to end users for high-severity threats, like an active shooter.)

This system of intelligent location based alerts operates 24/7—even when you’re asleep. It combines the power of location data with the immediacy of top-of-the-line threat monitoring.

In Practice

Some people are skeptical of the benefits that a robust, GPS-integrated emergency notification system can provide. Such was the case with Kawasaki, one of the largest producers of motor vehicles in the world, before they were able to put their system to use during a California wildfire. Kawasaki leveraged AlertMedia’s pioneering map and geofencing technology to keep their employees safe and informed during the Inyo County fires last year.

Location data is most effective, though, when it’s used automatically. Implement a modern threat monitoring system so you don’t have to manually try to keep track of threats worldwide. Contact us if you’re looking to learn more about AlertMedia’s capabilities for location based alerts.

Want to discuss how AlertMedia’s notification system empowers you with geotargeting?

 

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