My experience in the public safety sector has taught me that the only thing you can expect every day on the job is the unexpected. From civil unrest to natural disasters, unexpected events occur daily with little or no warning. When unforeseen or unpredictable emergencies occur, security departments are often called upon to help mitigate the situation. This can cause a sudden and massive surge in demand for additional manpower. So how can a security operation rapidly fulfill excessive labor requirements while synchronously managing the crisis at hand?

Some security firms rely on a manual phone tree or text chain system to notify officers of emergencies. This is often a hierarchical communication model in which a manager or administrator calls or texts an individual or individuals. Subsequently, each person who is contacted is responsible for contacting others in the tree until everyone is informed.

Although phone trees and text chains are practical methods for employee communication, they aren’t ideal for relaying emergency information effectively. If one person does not receive the call or text message, they – along with each officer who follows that branch of the tree – remain unaware of the situation and the need for reinforcement. Facts and details are often omitted or misconstrued when information is passed from person to person. Because of this, the risk that individuals are receiving incorrect or incomplete information increases at every level of the tree. Additionally, with a manual process where information is delivered in silos, administrators can’t be sure who has and has not received the notification. 

To overcome the challenges posed by manual call trees and text chains, many security firm managers have turned to a more contemporary resource: employee scheduling software. Besides helping organizations manage staffing levels, this technology can be an extremely effective communication tool—particularly in the event of emergencies or last-minute schedule changes.

“We recently adopted an officer and staff scheduling software, and in addition to giving everyone online access to the most current schedule, it allows us to instantly notify employees of changes to schedules and staffing requirements,” said Sergeant Jeremy Cordray of the Truman State University Department of Public Safety. “It has saved us a lot of time and decreased confusion when schedule changes occur.”

Many employee and officer scheduling systems incorporate integrated messaging that allows managers to quickly contact individuals, all employees, or a select group. This eliminates time-consuming phone calls and allows managers to immediately notify staff of emergencies and the need for additional resources. Managers also can control who receives the message and ensure the information is accurately relayed to every employee.

In an emergency, it’s also imperative that the right people are positioned when and where they are needed most. Some scheduling software tracks employee attributes, such as skills, training, and certifications. This allows managers to quickly identify and notify a select group of proficient employees to ensure the most qualified individuals are positioned to manage each situation most effectively. Managers can subsequently view whether there are too many or too few employees scheduled and adjust staffing requirements to meet fluctuating staffing demands.

When emergencies occur, manual communication processes can be detrimental. And when every minute can mean the difference between an emergency and a disaster, security departments that invest time up front to implement communication tools have the best chance for an effective response.