CMS Emergency Messaging

Keeping it Simple

How does On-Top Emergency Messaging work?

This is the 3rd of three blogs on using digital displays for emergency messaging in open venues where people congregate. For that reason, primarily in buildings or campuses. The first blog stated the case to make the digital displays part of the building code to increase the safety of building occupants.

The 2nd blog describes the capabilities a digital display technology platform should ideally have to support advanced emergency messaging.

A quick summary of the requirements:

  1. A single robust CMS
  2. Emergency content separated from regular content
  3. Automated switching of content
  4. Emergency player groupings different than regular player groupings, e.g. by floor, building, and zone
  5. A separate emergency management module for the security department to take control of screens during an emergency
  6. Ability to connect to other building sub-systems (IoT), e.g. fire alarm system

For more details on the 6 areas please read the 2nd blog.

To meet these requirements, you need a platform that has the CMS (#1) and separate platform capabilities, such as an advanced emergency management (AEM) module, for #2-#6.

But if you don’t have the budget for advanced platform capabilities, there is still a lot you can do with “On-Top” messaging on regular content.  But, you need a CMS (#1) which has the On-top messaging capability.

Can you do emergency messaging with just the CMS?

Yes.  This blog explains how.

What do we mean by On-Top messaging?

On-top messaging means that different messaging plays on top of the content that is currently playing.  The current content doesn’t stop playing, but the new content plays on top of the existing content at the same time.  It can play on top of a section of the screen or on top of the whole screen.  When it plays on top of the entire screen, it can appear that the content has been switched but the new content is in fact just playing on-top of the currently playing content.

What are the differences between Switched and On-Top Emergency Messaging?

The key difference between on-top messaging versus switched messaging is that switched messaging switches the content stream via a trigger.  A trigger is an event which can be automated or done manually by authorized users.  Automated triggers are supported by a triggering mechanism, such as a unique URL, for an emergency content stream.  The unique URL is called by another application or piece of equipment. The triggering mechanism, e.g. a unique URL, would be generated by the platform itself.

Manual switching requires functionality which is separate from the CMS.  For day-to-day switching, a player management capability is required.  Emergency content switching and emergency message management are separate from regular content switching. Emergency switching is described in detail in this blog.

On-top content does not switch the content stream.  It appears on top of the existing content.  It can appear by scheduling it, activating it when needed, or triggering it via an applet in a content slide which looks for an active message every time it plays.  The emergency content for the slide would only play when it sees an active message.  On-top content is part of the CMS and does not need any other platform module or functional capability to work.

The ability to activate On-top content as needed, allows On-top messaging to be used in a variety of ways.  On-Top supports ad hoc emergency messaging, or automatic activation of on-top content in conjunction with mass notification messaging.

How Does On-Top Messaging Work?

On-Top messaging only works in a CMS with the capability to build in an area(s) of the screen real estate where an invisible or transparent panel sits on top of the existing content, ready to be filled as needed.  The panel could be any size.  The size of a scrolling ticker or marquee message, or the size of the entire screen.

The transparent panel remains invisible until the user wants to allow it to be populated with content.  On-top content can be any kind of content, but in the case of emergency messaging it would be emergency messaging content.

In this blog and the previous two about emergency content messaging, we have kept the content generic and applicable to any digital display platform which has similar capabilities to Display5.  But, from this point forward, the rest of this blog will discuss how On-top emergency messaging works using the Display5 Digital Media Communication platform.  The specifics do not apply to any other platform and other platforms may have alternative ways to deliver the same or perhaps better capabilities.

How do you get content into the invisible panels with Display5?

The Display5 CMS allows us to make any panel transparent or invisible by simply inserting a “Blank slide” into the panel’s playlist.  A Blank Slide is transparent content and we can specify a duration of play for the slide.  If the Blank slide is the only slide in the playlist which is published, then the Blank slide can have any duration, say 5 seconds, and then it replays in the playlist.  This makes the panel transparent unless another slide is published or is added to the playlist.

This invisible panel can always be on top of the existing content, but it will be invisible until content within it, other than the Blank slide, is activated.  Other content can be activated by publishing another slide in the playlist which is either already in the playlist or added to the playlist. “Unpublished” slides in a panel playlist are simply skipped.  We can have any number of unpublished slides in a playlist, ready to play at a moment’s notice, by simply clicking on the “Publish” button. They will instantly play. If we have multiple unpublished slides in the playlist for different types of emergencies then we have to make sure we name them so we can easily select the only one(s) we want to play.

This means we could have any number of content slides ready to play in the invisible panel.  When a specific emergency happens, the appropriate slides can be instantly published and the blank slide unpublished.  Then the On-top emergency content will play instantly.

To get the invisible panel to be a part of a Show layout in Display5, we simply have to design the panel layout to include the intended invisible panel(s).  And then insert and publish a Blank slide into its playlist.

What kind of content can play in the invisible panel for of On-Top Messaging?

Any kind of Display5 widget!

Will Player Management groups give me the capability to switch to an emergency Show for the group of Players?


We can instantly switch the content for a group of players any time if we have the Player Management module or if the functionality is active.  But remember, there is a difference between a departmental grouping for normal content play and the player groupings in the Advanced Emergency Management module.  In the Player Management module, we have groups of departmental players which can be in different locations.  In the Advanced Emergency Management module, emergency groupings are geographic, by floor, building, and zone.

We can use Player Management to switch to another Show designed for emergency messaging.  But we would have to switch manually. There is no automated triggering, and we would be switching the content by the player group, not the emergency group.

See this blog which illustrates the concept with examples.

Is it possible to play different content streams vs. content slides in the Invisible panel?


Display5 has 2 widgets which can be used to play a stream of content into the Invisible panel. The Show Container widget and the System Ticker widget and they share some characteristics and each has some unique features.

Using the Show Container widget, we can create different Shows for different emergencies and then manually activate a Show in the Invisible panel. A Show is manually activated by simply editing the Show Container slide and selecting the Show we want to play in the invisible panel.  But remember, this is manual switching of content.  It is not automated.  This functionality is all within the CMS. It is not published to a group of players unless you also have the Player Management module or functionality and there is a defined player group.

The System Ticker is a centrally controlled ticker messaging widget.  It is centrally managed and allows us to create a shared set of ticker messages for multiple Shows.

This table details the common and distinct features of both widgets:

CMS emergency messaging

Are there any other features in Display5 which can help with managing emergency messaging?


Every content slide in Display5 provides the choice to only allow an Administrator user to edit the slide.  Using this capability restricts access to content in playlists. It provides another tool for when and how content is played.

This blog has focused on emergency messaging using only the CMS of Display5 to deliver On-top emergency messaging.  The On-top messaging is used for other types of messaging, e.g. advertisements or announcements, as desired.

Users often start with On-top emergency messaging, and as their needs grow, Display5 has additional capabilities which can be added.  The additional capabilities are described in this blog.

For more information, a demonstration or a trial, please contact us.

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