How to Alert Employees in an Emergency: Tips, Best Practices

March 16, 2023 | By Sam Pelton
Text message example

Emergencies (or simply urgent situations) can happen to anyone, in any workplace, anywhere in the world.

According to the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, “Within the past five years, 80% of businesses in the United States experienced one or more unexpected events that caused a significant disruption in ‘business as usual.’”

These “unexpected events” include events such as:

  • Natural disasters
  • Cyberattacks
  • Workplace violence
  • Loss of power or service
  • Weather-related issues

And if you have more than a handful of employees, you’ve probably thought about how you would alert those employees in the event of emergencies such as those.

Almost all communication methods are inadequate. People don’t answer their phones. Email isn’t urgent enough. Social media is absolutely unreliable.

So how do you alert employees in the event of an emergency?

Here we’ll go over some tips and best practices, so that you can be best prepared when the unexpected happens.

But before we get too far into that, let’s go over a bit about what actually constitutes a “workplace emergency.”

What Is a Workplace Emergency?

A “workplace emergency” could refer simply to any urgent situation that needs to be immediately addressed. This could be a power outage, a system issue, an urgent shift need, a weather-related cancellation, or any similar event.

A “workplace emergency” could also refer to a genuine emergency threatening the safety of employees, clients, or customers. This could include a fire, an active shooter, or any number of other life-threatening circumstances.

In all of these situations, you need to be able to communicate quickly and effectively with your workforce, so that they know exactly what to do and how to respond.

Having an effective communication system and plan allows you to…

  • Reduce confusion, since people know exactly what’s going on and what’s expected of them
  • Clear up your bandwidth, so that you’re not spending all your time funneling questions
  • Keep people safe

How Do I Alert Employees About an Emergency?

There are several different ways you can notify employees about an emergency.

1. Use SMS

Texting is the most effective way to send out an urgent notification that you need people to read right away.

That’s because 98% of text messages are read, and most people read their texts right away after receiving it.

This is in contrast to phone calls, which are often ignored, and emails, which can sit in inboxes for days (or indefinitely) before being read – or worse, deleted.

Texting large groups of people requires the use of an SMS alert system like Mobile Text Alerts. An SMS platform allows you to easily manage your database of contacts in one place, and blast out an alert whenever you need.

IT notice: All systems are experiencing outages. Actively working to resolve. Please stand by for an update.

2. Use Phone Recordings

Though SMS is more effective than phone calls, you should still use phone calls in conjunction with your text messages, if you can.

Doing this helps add another layer of certainty that your subscribers will actually pay attention to your notice. If they happen to ignore or not see the text message, a pre-recorded phone call can be a backup.

Note that we said a “pre-recorded phone call” – you shouldn’t need to (nor do you want to) call everyone individually, unless you have a fairly small team. Instead, use an online service to blast out your phone call to everyone at once.

Their phones will ring, and when they answer it, your automated message will play back. If they don’t answer, your recording will be left as a voicemail.

3. Use Email

In addition to SMS and phone recordings, a third (and less urgent) method of getting your notice out is through email.

This is probably the least effective of the three methods since it doesn’t have the same “urgent” feel to it as a text message or a phone call. But it is very inexpensive (sometimes even free), so it doesn’t hurt to send out an email alongside your other communication methods.

ATTENTION: Bomb threat has been identified. Evacuation procedures have been implemented. Please proceed to nearest exit and follow management’s instructions in the parking lot while we assess the situation.

You could consider other means of communication, but having at least these three will help you be confident that as many employees are receiving your emergency notice as possible.

But now that we’ve gone over some different types of emergency alerts you can send, let’s go over some best practices for emergency alerts.

What Are Best Practices for Alerting Employees in an Emergency?

Keep the Message Short and Simple

When communicating during an emergency, it's important to keep the message short and simple. Employees may be under stress or in a panic, so it's important to ensure that the message is easy to understand and follow.

Use simple language and avoid technical jargon or acronyms.

Keeping things short is especially important when sending an SMS, because SMS is an avenue typically reserved for short messages. (An SMS can technically only be 160 characters long, although you can still include more characters than that, but it may cost you more messaging credits in your SMS platform.)

Have Pre-Filled Messages in Place

Oftentimes you can anticipate what types of emergencies or urgent situations may come up.

Do you periodically have IT issues that need to be addressed? Shift needs that need to be filled? Weather-related emergencies? Health lockdowns?

You can have message templates pre-filled ahead of time, so that when the time comes, all that you need to do is fill in a few blanks and then blast out your message.

This can help you save some time and stress when the need arises.

Screenshot of message templates page

Provide Clear Instructions

Provide clear instructions on what employees should do during an emergency.

For example, in case of a fire, you can tell employees to evacuate the building and assemble at a designated meeting point. Provide information on the nearest exit routes and emergency procedures.

Make sure the instructions are specific to the emergency situation and tailored to the situation, so that there’s as little confusion as possible.

Use Multiple Communication Channels

We hinted at this before, but you can use multiple communication channels to ensure that the message reaches all employees.

The best options are typically SMS, phone recordings, and email. But depending on your situation, you could also use Slack notifications, loudspeaker/intercom announcements, social media posts, announcements on your website, or a number of other options.

You obviously can’t do everything, but you can determine which communication channels would work best for your business - then go ahead and implement those.

Test the System Regularly

You’ll want to test the emergency communication system regularly to ensure that it's working properly.

Testing the system regularly will help in a few different ways:

  • You’ll be familiar with how your communication system works so that you’re more comfortable sending out a notice if the need arises
    • For example, you can make sure you know how your SMS platform works so that there are minimal delays in the event of an actual emergency or urgent situation
    • You can also be aware of the additional features provided by your system so that you can take full advantage of the benefits
  • You can identify any issues or gaps in the system, so that you can make improvements as necessary

In some situations, you could consider conducting regular drills and simulations to test the system and ensure that employees are familiar with the emergency procedures.

At the very least, you want to test your systems and procedures enough that you’re confident you can use them when needed, without a hitch.

Screenshot of dashboard

Provide Training and Education

To help prevent confused scrambling in an urgent situation, provide training and education to employees ahead of time.

Ensure that employees are aware of the emergency procedures, know how to use the communication channels, and understand their roles and responsibilities during an emergency. (This is especially important for those employees who will be actually in charge of sending the emergency notifications.)

Consider planning periodic training sessions and refreshers to ensure that employees are up to date with the latest information.

Make Sure Management Knows the Communication Processes

Similar to the above point, make sure everyone in management knows who’s in charge of what, in regards to the communication process.

Who will determine when a message needs to be sent? How will they determine what the message says? Which employees will be the recipients of the message? What procedures are in place to send a follow-up “all clear” message once the emergency situation is over?

It’s best if you establish a plan to preemptively answer all those questions, and to make sure management is in the know about that plan.

How to Use an SMS System to Alert Employees in an Emergency

You probably already have an email system in place for your business, but you may or may not have an SMS system in place as well.

Getting an SMS platform for your business will allow you to not only send out texts in case of emergency, but it can also help with communication in other ways:

  • Meeting reminders

Hello team! Don’t forget about the mandatory team sync at noon today. Pizza will be provided!

  • Event notices

Christmas party tonight at 6pm! Come hungry and wear the ugliest sweater you can find!

  • HR updates

Reminder: Please turn in your timesheet by tomorrow at 5pm.

  • Marketing (if applicable)

Today only! Take an additional 50% off all clearance items.

Here are a few steps to using an SMS emergency system.

1. Find an SMS Platform

You want an SMS platform like Mobile Text Alerts that’s easy to use and easy to set up.

We’d recommend getting a free trial and/or a free demo so that you can get a feel for how the system works. (There’s no credit card required, so there’s no risk.)

2. Load In Your Contacts

You probably already have a list of contacts you can pull from your employee database. Although there are several methods to add in contacts to your SMS platforms, you’ll probably find the easiest method of adding contacts to be importing them in from a spreadsheet .

You just have to export your contacts from your current database, set up a spreadsheet with the appropriate headings, and then drag and drop your spreadsheet file into the appropriate place in your SMS platform dashboard.

Voila! Contacts added in.

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Subscriber import template

3. Type Out Your Message

When you’re ready to send out your message, you simply navigate to a “Send a Message” section on your platform Dashboard.

There you’ll select the recipients for your message, type out your content, and click “Send.”

If you want, you can include elements such as your employees’ names or a trackable link (for example, if you want to give your employees a link to follow to see live updates for whatever issue you’re communicating about).

Screenshot of send message page

And that’s the gist of it!

There are a few additional things you can do if you want to, including:

  • Setting up templates ahead of time, to save time when the need for sending a message comes up
  • Organizing your employee list into groups, so that you can make sure to only send people messages that pertain to them
  • Setting up different users who have access to send messages for the account – that way, everyone who needs access can have it
  • Accessing your account (and sending messages) from a mobile app, so that you have the flexibility to send messages when you’re not around a computer

How Can I Manage Texts, Phone Recordings, and Email in the Same Place?

If you want to really save time, you can manage your SMS, phone calls, and email notices all from the same platform.

In the Mobile Text Alerts dashboard, for example, you can send SMS and emails together with a single click. Then you can record your phone recording and send it out within the same platform.

The Phone Alerts system allows you to:

  • Record a voice message directly from your web browser
  • Select the recipients for your phone call
  • Send out your phone call

It will ring on your recipients’ phones. If they answer the call, it will play back your message right then and there. If they don’t answer, it will leave a voicemail so that they can play it back.

Being able to manage sending texts, phone recordings, and emails all from the same platform will help make the sending process more convenient when you need to send out urgent alerts.

Try an Emergency Alert System Today

Make sure you’re prepared for the unexpected by setting up an emergency text alert system today. (You get 14 days and 50 message credits free.)

If you want to try out the phone recording option as well, but sure to let sales know and they’ll get you going with some free phone call credits.

“We got this program to use for our trauma alerts. We have ended up using it for so much more. We regularly communicate with our staff anything of an urgent nature. … We love it! … I highly recommend this product to any team with multiple members.”


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Start sending mass text alerts to your entire list today!