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Learn / Blog

Implementing an Emergency Alert System usingWhatsApp

|  6 min
In this article

Why Emergency Response is a Business Necessity

With conflict, natural disasters, and extreme climate events now a regular and almost daily occurrence, individual entrepreneurs and organizations have the need for an effective and reliable emergency alert, communications, and information distribution system. This fulfills both the need to keep customers and stakeholders up to date with the latest developments and prescribed courses of action, and the obligation to provide these parties with the resources they need to cope in extraordinary circumstances.

This emergency response system needs to be secure, reliable, capable of real-time communication – and with enough coverage to extend to all areas where the enterprise has an active interest.

The WhatsApp messaging platform has around two billion active users, operating from 180 countries. It’s the world’s third most popular social platform, and a trusted medium of communication to which users will readily respond. Interactions on WhatsApp undergo end-to-end encryption, which safeguards user privacy, and two-way, real-time communications are possible. 

For commercial users, WhatsApp Business requires companies to pass an approval process before creating a branded business profile. This assures consumers who engage in contact with these brands that they are dealing with a source of information that is verified and trustworthy.

With features that users can leverage for incident reporting and emergency alert communication, this makes WhatsApp a valuable resource in the crisis management arsenal of any enterprise.

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How to Use WhatsApp as an Emergency Alert System

There are a number of ways that you can use WhatsApp as an emergency alert system and crisis management tool. Among the features and capabilities that WhatsApp provides for this purpose are the following:

Issue Mass Communications

An API is an Application Programming Interface, which is a set of protocols and tools that enables software applications to send and receive text messages programmatically. With the WhatsApp Business API, businesses and organizations can establish a direct line of communication with their stakeholders.

This ability enables organizations to send out mass alerts when unforeseen events occur. Enterprises on the WhatsApp platform can issue these emergency alerts to their employees and customers who have opted in or subscribed to receive messages from the brand, or more widely as a general public announcement.

With WhatsApp messaging in real time, recipients can get access to these emergency alerts instantaneously, increasing the chances of their reacting to events in a timely manner, and taking all the necessary precautions.

Note that users of the free WhatsApp Business application are limited to sending out mass messaging to only 256 contacts at a time. Any organization wishing to broadcast emergency mass messaging to more people than this will need to consider one of the paid options available under the WhatsApp Business Cloud API.

This is the cloud-based edition of WhatsApp Business API or on-premise API, which is hosted by Meta (the parent company of WhatsApp). Organizations can use Meta’s developer resources to create their own in-house business messaging tools, or use the expertise of a Meta-approved official Business Service Provider (BSP).

Mass communication through this option must adhere to the WhatsApp messaging limit Tiers. These range from Tier 1 (1,000 unique WhatsApp message recipients per day) through Tier 2 (10,000 unique WhatsApp message recipients), Tier 3 ( 100,000 unique recipients), to Tier 4 (unlimited WhatsApp message recipients per day).

Prices for using this mass messaging facility vary by geographical region.

Recipients in all cases must have given active opt-in consent to receiving messages from an organization through its WhatsApp number. In addition, all messaging (whether drafted internally, or subcontracted to a BSP) must conform with WhatsApp’s own standards for business communications.

Use Two-Way Communication to Engage in Critical Dialogue

The WhatsApp Business API enables two-way communication. So using WhatsApp, crisis managers can engage in direct conversations with responders on the ground reacting to ongoing events, or individuals who need assistance.

With a two-way flow of information and reactions, organizations can use their WhatsApp emergency alert and communications system to gather crucial information on the current crisis, clarify essential details, and provide resources and reassurance to their contacts.

Facilitate Rescue and Relief Operations

Emergency services and public safety agencies can use WhatsApp to send emergency messages to people in a particular geographical area, to issue critical advice and instructions. For example, mass communications can direct communities in disaster-stricken areas on the best routes to choose for safe evacuation, or the location of drop-off points for food, medical, and household aid.

Relief coordinators can use a GIS-based graphical user interface to map the geographical coordinates and phone numbers of their response teams. In this way, they can improve resource allocation and better prioritize their rescue and relief operations.

Gather Information from the Field

Using WhatsApp’s multimedia messaging tools, individuals in the field can send text messages, images, videos, and location data to report incidents in real time. This kind of reporting can provide vital decision-making information for coordinators in the enterprise crisis management center.

Within the emergency response command center, organizations can deploy WhatsApp chatbots to relieve the pressure on human staff by providing automated responses to Frequently Asked Questions, and to make knowledge base and resources instantly accessible to those who need them.

Get Specific with Targeted Communications

The WhatsApp group messaging and Broadcast facilities enable organizations to segment their message recipients according to various criteria, such as location, or demographics. Response coordinators can categorize recipients into different broadcast lists. 

For emergency alert and crisis management purposes, this allows enterprises to craft and direct messaging to specific groups, such as employees, the residents of a particular area, or the stakeholders in a particular project. 

Integrate WhatsApp with Incident Management Software

Integrating WhatsApp with your existing incident management tools facilitates automated ticket creation, tracking, and escalation – and helps reduce the stress burden on your response staff. Capturing WhatsApp reported incidents within the larger incident management framework of the organization helps streamline the reporting and incident handling processes.

Making WhatsApp Part of a Holistic Emergency Response Strategy

We have already alluded to the benefits of integrating WhatsApp with your existing incident management tools. Including WhatsApp as part of a larger crisis communications platform can provide all of the advantages that WhatsApp Business has to offer, in addition to the enhanced feature set of a dedicated crisis management system and emergency communications tool.

With an enterprise emergency communications platform for example, response coordinators can distribute mass notifications to a limitless number of users. Organizations can schedule mass notifications ahead of time, or send them out in real time. Notification options may include push messages, email, SMS, phone calls, and web alerts.

Precautions and Caveats when Using WhatsApp

Many traditional emergency communication solutions charge per message, or have high setup and maintenance costs. In contrast, by using internet connectivity, WhatsApp can offer a more cost-effective alternative – especially if the organization has to deal with a large volume of messages, or a prolonged emergency situation. 

However, WhatsApp’s deep reliance on internet connectivity can be a potential point of failure for an organization’s emergency response. In a crisis situation, network infrastructure may become overwhelmed, compromised, or even completely inactive, rendering internet-dependent resources like WhatsApp redundant and inoperable.

For an emergency alert system that’s truly up to the challenge of coping with any situation, you therefore need a fallback option, when it comes to communication. SMS text is one such option, using a time-tested technology that doesn’t require the internet, and is instantly accessible on devices ranging from the most fundamental of phone handsets to the smartest of today’s hardware.

For example, IDT is one of the world’s most trusted global telecom partners, and a leading voice connectivity provider in the industry. As a division of IDT Corporation, IDT Express is focused on delivering wholesale Voice, DIDs, and Global A2P SMS services to small to medium size businesses across the globe.

Application-to-Person or A2P SMS is quickly becoming a preferred channel for enterprises to engage customers in a personalized, timely and efficient manner. IDT Express offers a secure, highly reliable Wholesale SMS gateway service enabling businesses to provide outbound one-way A2P communications. IDT’s state-of-the-art platform adheres to the highest security and operational standards.

With the IDT Express SMS API, you can seamlessly build customer journeys by fostering interactive conversations, all within the framework of your app. Swiftly integrate IDT’s carrier-grade platform into your current systems or applications, via a user-friendly wizard-driven code generation process that is fast and effortless to utilize.

To find out more about how IDT Express’s SMS gateway technology, SMS Portal, and SMS API can work with WhatsApp to enhance your organization’s emergency alert system, visit our website, or book a demo.

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