Mass communication systems and Protect Duty

Intelligence-Module-Harnessing-People-Reporting by SIRV reporting and tracking software

Mass communication systems send incident alerts and updates to people. Heads of security will likely view them as one way to meet Protect Duty’s requirements. Lets review their use case and features.

Protect Duty: a new standard in security

On 19 December 2022, the UK government underscored its commitment to new counter terrorism legislation, Protect Duty.

Although it only applies to publicly accessible venues with capacity for 100+ people, many non-public venues are likely to adhere to it simply because, it sets a new standard in security. As a result, in 2023 many security heads will consider if a mass notification system is necessary to comply with Protect Duty.

Manchester Arena Bombing Location Map

Protect Duty legislation has been driven by terrorist incidents such as, the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing (location shown on map above).

What’s a mass communication system?

If you travel on the railway you’ve probably heard a mass communication system: a public address system (tannoy).

Traditionally, these systems send essential updates (for example, train delays) and safety messages (for example, fire alarm) to members of the public. Because messages reach whomever is within a space, the only way to target certain recipients is to encode announcements. For example, messages for ‘Inspector Sands’ are fire alarm announcements for UK rail staff. However, today’s new digital mass communication systems can target individuals and as a result, offer far more use cases.

UK railway station Kings Cross

UK railway stations such as, Kings Cross (above) use mass communication systems every day.

Reach and control

Digital mass communication systems offer greater reach and more control than a public address system. For example, you can reach people through:

  1. Email
  2. Voice
  3. Text
  4. In app message
  5. Social media

Because many of these modes are tied to individual identities, messages no longer need to be encoded: they can be directed to specific people or everyone.

Popular modes of communication:

Mass communication systems use desktop alerts as one form of multi-modal communication.

In app alert (desktop or mobile device)

Mass communication systems use text, SMS as one form of multi-modal communication.

Text message

Mass communication systems use email as one form of multi-modal communication

Email notification

Mass communication systems use voice messages as one form of multi-modal communication.

Voice call

What’s the business case for a mass communication system?

The business case for a mass communication system is simple: It quickly alerts people about an incident and keeps them updated. As a result, people should be safer and there should be a reduction in business disruption.

Common use cases for incident messages include missing persons (hospitals, care homes), fire alarms (various) and, lone shooters (schools, public spaces). However, today these systems are used for more than just incidents. For example, some companies use mass communication systems to send annual staff surveys, because its a great way to reach a remote workforce that is not desk based.

Multi-modal

Today’s digital mass communication systems use multiple mediums to reach people, so called ‘multi-modal’. This means one message can be sent in unison across many modes of communication. This is useful if for example, workers are in different places:

  • In the gym: Use a public address system
  • At a workstation: Email or desktop alert
  • Commute to work: Text or voice message
Mass communication system for gyms - image of gym

Companies have many different environments such as gyms (above), this makes multi-modal communication more valuable. 

Mass communication systems should be

There are many different mass communication systems but they should all have the following features and attributes.

Reliable

One important consideration is a system’s reliability. Ideally, it has at least 99.99% uptime. However, uptime is not a guarantee of connectivity. Because in the event of a terrorist incident most phone networks are restricted solely to essential workers. As a result, mobile phones will lose network connection.

Usable

Because system administrators will infrequently use mass communication systems and when they do, they’ll be under pressure, ease of use is paramount.

Asses the usability of a mass communication system by asking:

  • Is administration of the system through a mobile phone? (In which case usage is restricted to non-major incidents).
  • How easy is it to recover a password (infrequent use products often require password recovery).
  • How quickly can a message be sent to different groups of people?
  • Is there a preview window to allow the sender to view a message before it’s sent?
  • Can people be moved from recipient groups quickly and can their contacts details be changed easily?
  • Is the set-up straightforward? To onboard thousands of people and split them into groups should not take long (a simple CSV file should suffice). 
  • Does the system easily integrate with other systems? For example, public address systems and employee records?
  • Are templates available? Ideally, management agrees message templates in advance and these can be easily sent.
  • What safeguards are in place to stop abuse of the system? Mistakes are easy to make and can result in consequences. For example, in December 2022 a medical practice in UK sent to all their patients a cancer diagnosis instead of festive greetings.

Mass communication system safeguards against abuse

Over 8,000 patients were sent a message stating ‘“aggressive lung cancer with metastases”.   

Will Protect Duty drive adoption? 

Protect Duty will most likely drive greater adoption of mass communication systems. However, beyond compliance with legislation, its business case depends on whether the investment ‘stacks-up’. Some systems are very expensive and may not be viable for all businesses.

Find out if the SIRV mass communication system is worth the investment.

Screenshot of SIRV Mass communication system message on phone
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Protests in London June 2021 to June 2022

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