Let’s be honest: emergency notification systems are pretty much created equal. The industry saw tremendous growth and innovation in its early years, led by leaders like MessageOne, but as technology evolved, the market flattened considerably. While a few vendors specialize in particular industries like education, emergency notification systems, also known as mass notification systems, are now largely a commodity product.

To wit: here’s how the major players in the market compare for core features and functionality.

That’s a lot of yesses.

What does vary dramatically across emergency notification system (ENS) vendors is price. Because feature sets are so similar, choosing the right ENS for your business will probably come down to budget. The first step toward making that choice? Understanding the industry’s different pricing models. Let’s look at the three main ways that mass notification system vendors sell their products.

1.Cost per user with unlimited messaging.

This is exactly what it sounds like: you pay annually for a set number of users and can send an unlimited number of emergency notifications across all of your available channels. This model works well for organizations that expect to send a large number of messages, obviously, or for those with a significant international presence, as many of the more limited plans place premiums on global notifications.

Unlimited plans are worth considering for almost any organization, however, regardless of size, for the peace of mind that they provide. This should not be underestimated. When you’re in the middle of an unplanned disruption, whether it’s a safety emergency, an IT outage, a weather situation, a business-critical communication, whatever – you do not want to be worried about how many messages remain on your plan. You need to keep your people and your data safe by acting as quickly and decisively as possible. Emergency notification systems with unlimited messaging give you that freedom and confidence.

While many organizations assume that unlimited plans may be cost-prohibitive, or at least more expensive than the alternatives, that is not always the case. Some ENS solutions with unlimited messaging, like AlertFind, actually cost less than options with more restrictions. Mass notification systems with fixed cost, unlimited pricing models also give you the certainty of knowing your annual spend. When you’re managing a tight budget, you may not have the flexibility to fund variable expenses like messaging overseas.

2. Cost per user with limited messages.

This model can be a great option for organizations with few employees that will simply never need the scale provided by an emergency notification system with unlimited messaging. You pay for a predetermined number of users and notifications per year.

The usage assumptions and allocations are typically pretty generous. Last we heard, for example, xMatters offers up to 600 SMSs and 120 phone minutes per user per year. In a 2,000 person organization, that works out to almost 2 SMSs and 20 seconds of calling every day for a year. If you’re not worried about approaching those limits, these plans may be worth considering.

3.Cost per user with unlimited messages in the U.S., plus “cost of usage” for international messages.

This mass notification system model is a hybrid of the first two, combining unlimited domestic messaging for firms in the United States with international overages. It may make sense if you have zero need for international coverage, or if you need the specialized services offered by the few emergency notification system providers that focus on particular verticals, like schools. If you do not fall into those categories, be aware that the cost of supporting your international footprint can add up fast.

One final note on ENS pricing: no matter which model you choose, make sure to consider long-term price increases. Many vendors offer very compelling first-year contracts, then raise prices by 20-30% the following year. Be careful to take special note of long-term pricing terms in your contract and lock down any special rates in writing.