Mass text alert systems and omnichannel crisis communication 101
During times of crisis, reliable and accurate communication can save lives. We share how to use SMS, Voice, MMS, and other mass communication tools most effectively.
Crises can happen at any time and anywhere. Climate change is an ongoing global concern, and we have already seen its effects on the environment, such as more extreme weather events like wildfires or excessive rainfall. Swift and efficient sharing of critical information in these situations can help save lives.
Indonesia for example, who were affected by a devastating tsunami in 2004 and have experienced at least one major natural disaster per month since, have introduced early warning systems to keep people informed and to send information in real-time.
Due to technological advancements, widespread mobile phone ownership, and increased daily average time spent on a phone (reaching 4 hours and 30 minutes and growing), organizations are better positioned to handle similar crises. In a time-sensitive situation, when there is a need to get through to a substantial number of people, using various channels, like SMS, Voice, MMS, or social media, can help ensure that your audience is well informed.
What is a mass text alert system?
Health organizations, police, schools, and businesses are implementing emergency SMS alert systems to ensure everyone receives helpful and swift information in times of crisis. A mass text alert system is a fast and efficient way to send critical information to people when immediate action is needed.
Emergency SMS alert systems are used in cases of:
- natural disasters (fires, floods, tsunamis, etc)
- crimes (burglary, assaults)
- cyber threats (malware, phishing, other frauds)
- medical emergencies (pollution, disease outbreak, etc)
- public safety breaches
- financial crises
- transit shutdowns (roadblocks, accidents, and more)
- product recalls
Why should you use an emergency SMS alert system?
Emergencies are unpredictable and sometimes inevitable, but having emergency SMS alert systems can:
- prevent panic
- minimize rumors
- clarify the situation
- show empathy and competency
- protect your business
- maintain your reputation
Emergency SMS alert systems play a pivotal role in minimizing the impact and maximizing the efficiency of response efforts. With the ability to reach a large audience instantly, and an open rate of up to 98%, SMS enables quick dissemination of critical information, evacuation notices, or emergency alerts.
In fact, 95% of SMS messages are read in the first three minutes and do not require an internet connection. You can provide all vital information, including links with further updates about the crisis, just like when the UK government sent an SMS alert to all citizens about the new rules regarding Covid-19.
Additionally, since SMS allows 2-way communication, you can quickly receive responses from people who need help or want to provide feedback.
Another useful SMS feature and value-adding service are Flash SMS messages. They appear on the recipient’s mobile phone without opening a message inbox. As soon as you look at your phone, it is there, making it a notification with an open rate of 100%. And with the average American checking their phones 144 times per day – it’s hard to miss.
However, Flash SMS grabs the user’s attention but disappears if not saved manually. In the case of a crisis, people could dismiss it without reading it and won’t be able to re-read it.
Five key benefits of emergency SMS alert
Since more than 91% of the world’s population owns a mobile phone, reaching people has never been easier. Emergency alert SMS is the ideal channel to give prompt and concise information to the right people since it can be delivered to smartphones and feature phones and doesn’t need an internet connection.
Depending on the type of emergency, you might need to alert larger or smaller groups of people. Emergency alert SMS lets you inform the masses or a targeted group of people in just a few clicks.
When sending emergency alerts, everyone must get the messages. SMS can be easily tracked using delivery reports that show real-time information about the status of the message. Using webhooks, you can be notified about the message delivered status. And if some messages aren’t delivered, by implementing failovers via our customer engagement solution Moments, you can ensure high message deliverability.
SMS supports 2-way communication, and in the case of an emergency, it allows people to mark themselves as safe or needing help. Integrating an SMS chatbot can help speed up the process, automate conversations, give further information, and stay on top of relevant information during a crisis. Once the emergency is over, these findings can pinpoint efficient and inefficient communication channels and improve your communication plans and processes for future incidents.
Clarity and consistency in communication
As previously mentioned, prompt and swift information is crucial in times of crisis. With emergency SMS, you can inform those in danger, alert them about potential risks, and update them on the development of the situation.
How does an emergency SMS alert system work?
The Emergency SMS alert system works in a few steps:
1. Gathering information
To send an emergency SMS alert, having a database of contact information for your audience is essential. While governments can send WEAs (Wireless Emergency Alerts) without the users’ opt-in, other organizations must have customers, employees, or members opt-in to receive the alerts.
2. SMS service provider
3. Writing content
You can either have a pre-written text where you can add information or write the emergency text on the spot.
Also, instead of writing the content yourself, you can use artificial intelligence to write the content, gather or analyze information and data, answer questions, and more.
When a crisis happens, it is time to access the system and send the emergency SMS.
Other channels as mass text alert systems
Choosing a channel for mass alerts doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing choice – SMS is not the only channel for disaster response, nor should it be seen in isolation. Looking at the most popular channel in your region before selecting any mass alert system can help determine whether to use SMS alerts alone or in combination with others.
Cell Broadcast is a technology that does not deliver alerts to individual recipients but sends them to all phones using a cell tower in the affected area.
The US government uses a type of cell broadcast called Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA) to send alerts concerning public safety. Australia, France, Japan, New Zealand, the Netherlands, and Canada use similar systems. Typically, cell broadcast is only available to governments as MNOs do not make this service available to other organizations.
The UK tested a similar emergency alert system in April 2023 – they sent a message accompanied by a loud siren-like or vibrating sound lasting for about 10 seconds.
They discovered some pain points, including technical issues, with some people receiving the alert a minute early, some 20 minutes later, and others not receiving it. Unlike SMS, cell broadcast does not have a reply path, and tracking which subscribers have received a message is impossible.
Additionally, some people found the alert disruptive, rushing to dismiss it to silence the alarm without reading the warning, raising a question: can a loud siren be helpful in all emergencies?
While these alerts can save lives, a single wrong button press can trigger mass panic, as seen in the Hawaii 2018 false missile alert incident.
MMS has experienced high growth and demand in the United States, with 19% more interactions in 2022 than in 2021.
In an emergency, MMS can complement SMS to send multimedia messages, such as images, maps, and videos, that include supplementary information about the crisis, with no character limit – providing fast coordination and awareness of the situation.
Voice can grab attention with automated voice calls or pre-recorded messages. In a crisis, it can convert text to speech, save time, and enable faster access to information.
Email can be used as an effective channel in pre- and post-crisis situations.
After communication professionals research potential risks specific to the organization, they can create crisis management plans. Using email, they can inform involved parties how to handle aspects of a crisis if and when it occurs and inform them about crisis simulations and exercises to improve readiness.
In the recovery stage of a crisis, email can help disseminate information about what happened and how the crisis has been managed. By prioritizing informing your audience and openly communicating the state of the emergency over email, you can help alleviate any concerns.
Creating messaging groups on chat apps when preparing crisis communication plans can aid crisis response teams in sharing information and knowledge. Sharing rich media like documents, checklists, emergency contact lists, or evacuation plans enables all participants to access the latest information and resources anytime.
Choose an omnichannel approach for mass text alert systems
An omnichannel approach dependent on the most popular channels in your region can be efficient in a crisis.
Choosing a reliable communication provider, like Infobip, which can deliver massive amounts of messages with high throughput on SMS and offers a wide range of additional channels, such as Voice, MMS, RCS, WhatsApp, Email, Video, and more, can help you ensure that you reach everyone in case of an emergency.