Digital Signage as an Emergency Response Tool

As a result of the digitization megatrend, we have become accustomed to looking at digital screens for information, entertainment, and education. Our brains process graphics faster than text, and our eyes are naturally attracted to motion. These three factors make digital signage for emergency messaging one of the best communication technologies available.

Despite its traditional use as a marketing and general information tool, digital signage can, and should be, re-purposed to relay potentially life-saving information during an emergency. It is highly visible and its ability to change messaging instantly makes crowd communication and rescue efforts more efficient.

Where is Digital Signage Being Used for Emergency Messaging?

Schools (K-12, college and university campuses) were the first to adopt digital signage for emergency messaging. A strategically placed digital sign and a carefully crafted message can alert the campus to danger and assist students, staff and faculty in getting to safety.

Before digital signage, schools used text/email alerts, intercoms, sirens etc. They were inexpensive and could reach off-campus constituents. They however had some glaring shortcomings.

Some of these methods were not CAP compliant or very reliable. Not everyone checks their emails regularly, and many K-12 schools do not allow students to carry or use cell phones while on campus.

And what happens to those who have not signed up for the texts or emails? Or those who have turned off their phones? What about the hearing impaired?

Those emergency alert systems also failed to address the visual component of mass communication.

Digital signage filled this gap. Our brains are visually oriented and respond rapidly to images and motion, so emergency messages displayed on digital signage will reach more people than an announcement made over the intercom.

Malls, hospitals, corporate offices, transportation services and government institutions are also starting to use digital signage as an emergency response tool.

The Superiority of Digital Signage

Digital signage is one of the best visual tools for communication during an emergency.

Unlike intercoms or loudspeakers, digital signage for emergency messaging does not need to be monitored in real time. Alerts and safety instructions for emergencies such as tornadoes can be prepared ahead of time and saved in the digital signage CMS. During an emergency, the messages are activated or triggered to be displayed. This “set it and forget it” nature of digital signage frees up personnel who will needed to respond to the crisis.

Such a proactive approach also saves time. During an emergency, the response time needs to be fast. How this time is being used can be the difference between life and death. When the emergency alerts and safety instructions have been prepared ahead of time, there is more time to get people to safety.

Digital signage can also be easily and instantly updated. Most digital signage solutions are cloud-based and can be accessed from any internet-enabled computer, so operators will not be confined to a specific location in order to make updates as the emergency situation changes.

The technology also offers centralized control which expedites message consistency and timeliness. Information that can potentially save lives needs to be on time and accurate. Centralized control fulfills this requirement and also ensures that only authorized personnel have access to the emergency messages.

Digital signage for emergency messaging can be used for mass communication during dynamically changing emergency situations such as:

  • Weather emergencies like tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, and floods
  • Earthquakes, landslides, and wildfires
  • Potential terrorist attacks and active shooter situations

Digital emergency signage can use eye catching graphics to display information such as:

  • Descriptions of emergency situations.
  • Instructions on how to respond to any type of emergency e.g exit routes, where to go, what to do and who to call.
  • Information about local emergency shelter centers, including phone numbers, addresses and capacities.
  • Ambulance/hospital contact info and basic first aid information.

Choosing the Best Digital Signage Solution

Digital signage is versatile and can be used for multiple applications e.g. menu boards, building directory, general information sharing, etc. When being used for emergency messaging, certain elements come into play and there are some considerations that have to be factored in. School safety officials need to consider the following:

  1. Be sure that you have total control over the content published via the digital messaging signage system.
  2. Ensure interoperability before purchasing to make sure that the technology can be integrated with other software e.g. CAP Alerts systems.
  3. Don’t rely solely on digital signage for use as an emergency response tool – make sure there are more communication tools in the toolbox e.g. text messaging, sirens, loudspeakers, etc.
  4. Consider the lifespan of the technology, and the environment in which it will be utilized. Will components become outdated fast? Are there weather related concerns?
  5. Be sure to develop redundancy to ensure the emergency messaging display system does not “go down” if there are WiFi or power outages.

Why Use Digital Signage as an Emergency Response Tool?

Effective communication and crisis management during an emergency situation all comes down to preparation.

According to HigherEd TechDecisions, safety and security officials should follow these four steps when using digital signage for emergency messaging:

  1. Prevention: Create prevention campaigns that detail how to respond to specific emergencies. Have these campaigns run on digital messaging signage during regular hours.
  2. Preparedness: Create a plan of action for different emergency situations. The plan should include a library of pre-built alerts and templates of safety zones that are stored in the software and can be triggered and displayed instantly.
  3. Response: Make alert integration part of your overall digital messaging plan.
  4. Recovery: For every emergency situation, there should be a recovery plan that involves notification that the danger has passed and the alert is over.

Tips for Using Digital Signage for Emergency Messaging

Remember, the primary aim of using digital signage for emergency messaging is to instantly deliver an important message to a wide-reaching audience, during a time which could be extremely chaotic.

The message has to be accurate, get to the audience quickly, be easily understood, and it needs to be communicated effectively.

Here are some of the most popular tips for using digital and video signage as an emergency response tool:

  • Use messages that are short and to the point – emergencies are no time to beat around the bush
  • Use larger formatted text and fonts for optimal readability
  • Use bold colors to attract the most attention and be mindful or coloration too
  • Use proper lighting and flashing icons – the human eye is attracted to motion, use it
  • Do not require a signup process for an audience to receive emergency information via signage
  • Augment digital messaging and signage with location based technology, like beacons
  • Use audio, SMS, and email notifications to complement the visual messaging being conveyed
Do you have any other tips for using digital signage for emergency messaging?

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