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When you issue an emergency alert, you want people to understand and comply with your instructions as quickly as possible — especially when their lives or wellness are at risk, and risks grow every second. The same is true for non-emergency mass notification uses, whether your goal is to improve employee engagement, boost productivity and operational efficiencies, give customers better experiences or sway buying decisions.

In this post, we share guidance from the National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code (NFPA 72) for increasing audience comprehension of your mass notifications and emergency alerts. Although the NFPA focuses on fire safety, you’ll find these same simple practices can help boost response to any messages you deploy.

>> Colors impact legibility

“Signs are more legible for persons with low vision when characters contrast as much as possible with their background.” Suggested uses: “Positive image: Dark characters on a light background. Negative image: Light characters on a dark background.” (A.


“The use of ALL UPPERCASE CHARACTERS in messages should be avoided as it decreases legibility. The exception is one- or two-word commands or statements such as STOP, GO, or EXIT STAIR.” (A.

>> Prerecorded messages are consistently more intelligible

“The fundamental structure of prerecorded or live messages is critical for providing information and instructions that are intelligible. Prerecorded messages created in a controlled environment are consistently more intelligible than live messages and should be developed and provided to handle as many of the probable emergencies that [your] particular facility will encounter.” (A.

>> Precede audio messages with alert tones

“Voice instructions (live or prerecorded) should be preceded by a tone to get attention and prepare the target audience for voice instructions. This tone should be differentiated for specific emergencies, based on the standards for [your] facility… Generally, the emergency message should consist of an alert tone of 1-3 seconds, followed by a voice message that is repeated at least three times… Focus the message on the action to be taken and minimize wasting words.” (A.

>> Cover the 5 Ws

A compelling message should include the following:

  • What: Tell people what to do.
  • When: Specify when they need to act.
  • Where: Describe the location of the risk/hazard/issue (who should take action and who should not).
  • Why: Communicate reasons why they should act, and consequences if they don’t.
  • Who: Clarify the source, or who is giving the warning.

“Warning style is also crucial and should be specific, consistent, certain, clear and accurate with attention paid to frequency — the more it is repeated, the better.” (A.

Wondering what tools you might need to make all of the above possible? Here’s a helpful cheat sheet. (Hint: You likely already have plenty of tools you can integrate to increase their capabilities.)