On April 9, 2015, it was difficult to do anything technology-wise in Saskatoon Health Region. Desktop phones, internet, email, and both internal and external websites crashed that afternoon. While the Region’s Information Technology (IT) department worked on fixing the problem with the vendor, and leaders determined the course of action to take, the Region used whatever means they could to communicate with employees, in the end turning mainly to traditional media, social media channels, cell phone fan-out lists, and overhead announcements to keep everyone apprised of what was happening.

If the same thing happened today, there’s another alternative.

Text message from Notify Now system

Text messages like this test will go out to many within Saskatoon Health Region when there is an emergency to report through the NotifyNow system.

Saskatoon Health Region has purchased 350 seats on the NotifyNow system to use as an internal emergency notification tool.  NotifyNow is used by the City of Saskatoon and many of its partner organizations as a mass communication tool for emergency situations.

“For the Region, it will allow us to do a quick, internal notification of emergencies that are taking place, ensuring people know what to do, where to go and what to expect during an emergency,” explained Christa Sather, Emergency Preparedness Planner (EPP) with the Region.

NotifyNow works because it’s not tied to internal systems, which mean messages go out even in the event of outages.

It allows the EPP team to send senior, operational and physician leaders, most managers, fire marshals at the acute care sites and Parkridge Centre, and Region affiliates up-to-date notices when the Region is experiencing an emergency, such as a significant power outage or a region-wide IT problem.

Notifications can be sent multiple ways – by text, email and phone to both cell phones and landlines.

“We have been encouraging those who will be included in these notifications to update their information on our Gateway system, as we will pull information from that database for NotifyNow,” said Paula Wright, Enterprise Risk Management Coordinator.

The whole impetus behind installing this system within the Region was the outage last April.

“We lost our entire network, all our phones. All we had to communicate with were cell phones, overhead announcements, very few analog land lines and social media channels,” said Sather. “It would have been ideal to have this system up and running at that time, because as an externally-based system, it wouldn’t have been affected by the outage. We also could have used it as a communication tool during the planned electrical shutdowns at Royal University Hospital when the upgrade work was taking place.”

The EPP team has been working on getting NotifyNow off the ground in the Region since last year.

The system is versatile – notifications can be sent to certain groups, or to certain people, like the staff of a facility that is affected by an emergency, or to facilities managers about a problem with equipment at multiple sites in the Region.

“There are lots of ways we can pick and choose with this system,” said Wright. “We can choose who we notify, and which way we notify them first – by text, voice or email.”

The system also allows the EPP team to run reports on messages sent, and they can monitor who has received the notification as the system requires that the recipient acknowledge receipt of the message.

Because the Region only has 350 seats within this system, and the Region has roughly 14,000 employees, senior leaders are relying on managers to inform Region staff of any emergencies.

“We will need directors and managers to cascade information down,” Sather stated, “so that everyone who needs to know about a situation does.”

This system will significantly improve the flow of information in a time of crisis, it is believed.

“Last year, during the IT outage, the City of Saskatoon was actually able to send a message to agencies we needed to connect with through the NotifyNow system, and it worked really well. If we are ever without internet or phones again, we will be able to connect with those people ourselves, thanks to NotifyNow,” said Sather. “All we need now is a cell phone, or an Internet hot spot, and it will work.”