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Technology answers crisis call

By Mari-Len De Guzman

Montreal-based financial services firm Standard Lifeinvested in a mass notification system last year in a bid to strengthen itsbusiness continuity and emergency response program.

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

Montreal-based financial services firm Standard Lifeinvested in a mass notification system last year in a bid to strengthen itsbusiness continuity and emergency response program.

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

The company wanted a system that will allow it toimmediately send notifications to employees in the event of an emergency,without manually calling each of them, a cumbersome feat for a company of about2,000 employees.

Standard Life uses mass notification application from 3n,through a software-as-a-service model (SaaS). The SaaS model enables users touse the system without having to invest in additional technologyinfrastructure. 3n hosts the application and users access the system through aweb-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 sendout a message to all or a group of Standard Life employees within minutes, andget confirmation of receipt of the message. The message can be sent out throughvarious ways, depending on the employees’ communication preference — landline,mobile phone, e-mail or pager.

Aside from the cost benefit, the hosted application alsoappealed 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 ourmainframes and our hardware, we want to be able to continue to contact ouremployees.”

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

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

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

The system can be programmed with specific questions andallows for two-way communication where the employee can send a response back.

Regulated industries, such as financial institutions, aretypically big adopters of mass notification systems, says Marc Ladin,vice-president of global marketing for 3n.

But other industries are also slowly starting to adoptespecially as a result of some type of emergency occurring that made peoplerealize 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 amongcolleges and universities was less than 10 per cent. Today, almost 50 per centof colleges and universities in the U.S. have some form of mass notificationsystem in place, says Ladin.

“The business is really being driven by the fact that peoplerealize it’ important in any type crisis situation or incident management tohave the ability to communicate. Because all response and recovery activitiesare 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.

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