IVR Systems and Emergency Communications
This section of our technical library presents articles written about Emergency Alert Systems and Disaster Recovery definitions, terms and related information.
The 911Broadcast emergency notification and alert service can deliver a large number of phone calls using a network of phone systems employing digital phone lines simultaneously. Should a disaster such as a snow storm, wild fire or flood hit your area, 911Broadcast systems can alert your community quickly providing specific instructions if an evacuation is required.
This service is available using our emergency broadcasting systems. If a dangerous chemical spill occurs in your community, you can target specific areas to call. If a severe snow storm hits your area, your community can be notified of school closings or event cancellations.
Using an IVR System during Emergency Communications
by Paul Gillman, Database Systems Corp.
The use of Interactive Voice Response (IVR) during an emergency can prove to be a highly effective tool when mass communication is required with limited human resources available. Giving a caller the option to select from a menu can add another dimension to community warnings and help relieve the strain on a live emergency response center that can occur during a disaster. By handling routine calls, an automatic answering service can free the emergency response operators to handle more critical and non-standard calls.
Totally automated emergency messages can be delivered when an emergency response center is unavailable or not required. Community alerts can be sent with sufficient information provided to call recipients. The most frequently asked questions could be programmed into the IVR. More complex or specific need requests can be routed to an operator.
Using this technology, an IVR can be a force multiplier for an emergency response center, providing more information to more callers in less time. A standard message can be disseminated which can also help eliminate confusing instructions.
What Is IVR?
IVR, short for Interactive Voice Response, is a phone system technology that allows a caller (or call recipient) to choose options from a menu. Generally an IVR presents a message and then provides a list of options to the caller. The caller makes selections by touching a phone key or by speaking into the phone.
Some 911 response centers present the caller with a very simple IVR menu. Usually it answers the phone with a statement to the effect that if this is not an emergency, call the police at a different number. If it is an emergency press “1” or simply wait and the next available operator will answer the call.
One of the critical features of an IVR is the ability for the caller or recipient to speak with a person. This may not be feasible in some situations, but in most emergencies it is important that an operator is available to handle an exceptional call. This option must be available in all levels of the IVR menu.
Outbound Emergency Messages With IVR
During certain emergencies, an IVR can be employed within the process of delivering phone alert messages. Dispatch operations can be automated whereby an emergency alert message can be sent to first responders and emergency response members informing them that an event has occurred that requires attention. A member or organization contacted in this manner can be provided with the option to acknowledge the call and provide an availability status. Likewise, the member can be passed through to the dispatcher if need be.
The general public can likewise be called during an emergency using a community alert system with IVR. In the event of a disaster, a large emergency broadcast can be initiated contacting the public with information about the disaster or event. If an action is required of the public, such as the evacuation of a neighborhood, information can be provided to the resident in the message. Likewise, if the resident requires special assistance, the call can be routed by the IVR to an emergency call center.
In a related non-emergency service, IVRs can be used in systems that contact the elderly or homebound residents. Referred to as RUOK (Are you OK?), this program automatically calls members who subscribe to this service every day, ensuring their well being. The resident acknowledges the call by simply answering the phone or by pressing a touch phone key. If the call is unanswered or unacknowledged, a family member or community service group can be automatically alerted by the phone system.
IVR and Emergency Information Centers
Inbound emergency call centers can effectively use IVRs to perform many functions. The IVR could be programmed to simply route the inbound call to the appropriate department or response group. For example, if the same center is used for both emergency responders as well as the public, the IVR can route calls appropriately. If the call is a non-emergency, it can be queued in a lower priority, thus allowing emergency calls to jump ahead of other, non-critical calls.
IVRs can provide critical information 24 hours a day during an emergency. If callers need to locate the nearest shelters during a disaster, the IVR can use caller information (such as caller id or zip code) to locate the closest emergency support center.
Virtually any information that needs to be provided to the public or first responders can be programmed into the IVR. But as emphasized above, the ability to speak with an operator must be provided at all levels of an IVR menu.
IVR and Emergency Management
An IVR can also be effectively used when administering the IVR phone system itself. During an emergency, an administrator can use an IVR to control the emergency broadcast. The IVR can prompt the administrator for a PIN number to gain a secure access to the phone system. The actual emergency message can then be either selected using the IVR or recorded over the phone. The administrator then selects groups or individuals to be called by making touch phone selections from an administrative IVR menu. Finally the emergency voice broadcast can be initiated by selecting an option from the phone key menu.
This ability allows emergency administrative personnel the flexibility to launch an emergency notification using any landline or cell phone from anywhere with phone service.
Paul Gillman is a member of the management team at Database Systems Corp. Database was founded in 1978 and provides call center technology products and services including IVR systems and emergency voice broadcasting phone dialers.
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