Digital Signage Emergency Messaging: Keeping it Simple

digital signage emergency messaging

How does On-Top emergency messaging work?

This is the third of three blogs on using digital signage for emergency messaging. Emergency messaging is used in open venues where people congregate. Moreover, these venues are primarily in buildings or campuses. The first blog stated the case to make digital displays part of the building code to increase the safety of building occupants.

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

A quick summary of the requirements:

  1. First, is a single robust CMS
  2. Secondly, is emergency content separated from regular content
  3. In addition, is the Automated switching of content
  4. Most importantly, is emergency player groupings, different than regular player groupings. For example, the grouping is by floor, building, or zone
  5. In the same vein, a separate emergency management module for the security department to take control of screens during an emergency
  6. And finally, is the ability to connect to other building sub-systems (IoT).  For example, the fire alarm system sub-system.

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

In short, a platform is needed that has the CMS (#1), and separate platform capabilities. For example, 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) with On-top messaging capability.  

Sometimes On-Top is called “Over-Programming”, but we will refer to it as On-Top.

Can your digital signage emergency messaging be done with just the signage CMS?

Yes.  This blog explains how to keep digital signage emergency messaging simple.

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 plays 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 appears 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 a programmed automated event or is a manual action done by an authorized user.  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. For example, the triggering mechanism, a unique URL, would be generated by the platform itself.

Manual switching is a functionality that 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 appears by scheduling it, activating it when needed, or triggering it via an applet in a content slide. The emergency content for the slide only plays when it sees an active message.  On-top content is part of the CMS. It is independent from any other platform module or functional capability.

On-top content is activated as needed. As a result, On-top messaging is usable in a variety of ways.  On-Top supports ad hoc digital signage 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.  And, that invisible panel is ready to be filled in as needed.  The panel can be any size.  The size of a scrolling ticker or marquee message, or the size of the entire screen.

The transparent panel stays invisible until the user allows it to be populated with content.  On-top content can be any kind of content.  But, in the case of emergency messaging it is digital signage emergency messaging content.

In this blog and the previous two on emergency content messaging (Blog 1 and Blog 2), the content is generic. And it is 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 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 will have any duration. For instance, say it is 5 seconds after which it replays in the playlist.  This makes the panel transparent unless another slide is published or is added to the playlist.

On-Top Emergency Messaging Using Transparent Panels and Blank Slides

This invisible panel is always on top of the existing content But, it is invisible until content in its playlist, other than the Blank slide, is activated.  Other content is activated by publishing another content slide in the playlist. To clarify, content that is either already in the playlist or is added to the playlist. “Unpublished” slides in a panel playlist are simply skipped.  And, any number of unpublished slides can be in a playlist. Most importantly, is that they are ready to play at a moment’s notice, by simply clicking on the “Publish” button. They will play instantly. 

In addition, if we insert multiple unpublished slides in the playlist, they will be used for different types of emergencies.  Most importantly, we name them so we can easily select the one(s) we want to play in a specific emergency.

This means we will have any number of content slides ready to play in the invisible panel.  When a specific emergency happens, the appropriate slides are 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.  Further, we insert the unpublished On-Top messages, unpublished, and ready to play!

What kind of content can play in the invisible panel for 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 will instantly switch the content for a group of players at 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, there are groups of departmental players that may be in different locations.  Alternately, the Advanced Emergency Management module, emergency groups are geographic. For example, the grouping is by floor, building, or 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 versus content slides in the invisible panel?


Display5 has 2 widgets we use to play a stream of content into the Invisible panel. The Show Container widget and the System Ticker widget.  And, although they each have some unique features, they also share some characteristics.

Using the Show Container widget, we 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 this case, is a 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:

Are there any other features in Display5 that can help with managing digital signage 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 that can be added.  The additional capabilities are described in this blog.

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