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The need for mass notification is nearly as old as human history. Whenever there’s been a crisis, there’s been a need to alert citizens. From 1775, when Paul Revere rode through the countryside warning citizens that British troops were on the move, to the 1950s when school kids were admonished to duck-and-cover in case of nuclear attack, people yearn for instruction when calamity strikes.

The development of emergency notification solutions follows technology. In the 1960s the emergency broadcast system (EBS) was launched to notify the masses using the very latest technologies—television and radio. By 1997 the EBS was replaced by the Emergency Alert System (EAS), which, like the EBS, relied on TV and radio, but also included analog, digital, terrestrial and satellite broadcasts.

Since the launch of the EAS, the world has suffered unparalleled catastrophes, both natural and human-caused, each one illustrating a need for better emergency notification systems. For most of the world, September 11, 2001 was a wake-up call and was soon followed by other disasters, like the 2004 tsunami in Indonesia, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005, and this year alone, severe earthquakes in Haiti and Chile as well as the Deep Horizon oil spill.

Fortunately, technology has paved the way for new modes of notification that even today are saving lives across the globe. Advances like VXML (text-to-speech technology), the proliferation of smart phones, the ubiquity of SMS or texting, and the accessibility afforded us all by the Web have combined to make notification an incredibly powerful, efficient and flexible business tool.

Now it’s possible to notify any number of people at once, no matter where they are, no matter whether they are using a landline phone, email, smartphone or SMS. With the latest in GIS (geographic information system) capabilities, notifications can be targeted to alert just those businesses that are in the path of an approaching hurricane or fire.

Notification is also no longer just a one-way shout-out, but has grown into a two-way conversation, where those who receive an alert can respond, indicating that they received the message, they are taking action, they need help or any other relevant information. This has changed notification from being a tool to alert the masses into a full-fledged communication solution.

So, although notification is usually brought into a company for emergency use, creative managers have quickly found ways to use it to boost productivity in other ways—like the HR department that used notification to share health information during the flu pandemic and to issue travel alerts during the Icelandic volcanic eruption. Or the many IT departments that use notification regularly to automate system alerts and manage help desk tickets. Or the sales director who uses notification to alert her team of price or stock changes, and logs responses so she knows the information was received, understood and applied.


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