Chuck Tomasi

5 minute read

In mid-March 2020, ServiceNow announced four new Emergency Response Management Apps to help organizations manage the crisis around the COVID-19 pandemic. Here’s a developer’s perspective on what you should know about the apps. First, a quick overview of the apps in case you missed the announcement.

  • Emergency Response Operations - Optimize staff and resources to support emergency response for public agencies and other organizations.

  • Emergency Outreach - Distribute information and confirm employee safety and location through email or a mobile app.

  • Emergency Self Report - Enable employees to report illnesses and readiness to return, and initiate workflows to help managers respond

  • Emergency Exposure Management - Identify and manage exposure risk when an employee is diagnosed with an illness.

The first was app inspired by work we were doing with the State of Washington, and ServiceNow built the other three. You can find additional information about the apps on the ServiceNow Store.


Installation of these apps can be done from within your instance by going to System Applications > All and search for Emergency. You’ll see the apps appear in the list. From there, it’s a simple matter of clicking the Install button on each. We encourage you to install these on your PDI to test them out and learn more.


Configuration and customization


When it comes to configuration of the apps, first take a look at the properties for each app. The developers worked to make these apps configurable. Please note that not all apps have properties pages/modules setup, so you may want to visit the sys_properties table to find the configuration options.

Minor changes

If you find yourself adding fields, tables, choice list options, ACLs, or other minor changes to the apps, follow the following suggestions.

  1. Use the application picker to choose the app you wish to modify (i.e., set your scope to that app).

  2. Create a new update set in that scope.

  3. Make your changes and capture your changes.

  4. Save the update set (i.e., mark it complete).

  5. Deploy it to the target instance as you normally would.

Note that creating new tables may affect your license after September 30, 2020. Check with your account team if you need clarification before making changes.

Major changes

OK, let’s say you want to go a bit deeper and build something that doesn’t exist yet, like an integration to Google Calendar. Easy, follow the standard procedure for a scoped app.

  1. Go into Studio.

  2. Create a new, scoped app.

  3. Capture your changes.

  4. Publish the app to the repo.

  5. Install the app on the target instance from System Applications > My Company Applications.

If you want to make that integration easier to build and maintain, consider creating an IntegrationHub spoke!

Extension opportunities

Like the configuration/customization options, there are a few levels you can take this.

  • Connect emergency response apps. You may want to consider combining information between Emergency Outreach and Emergency Self Report. This is pretty simple because it’s all one platform and a single database.

  • Connect emergency response apps to core workflows. Perhaps you want to use your HR employee list as the basis for Emergency Outreach. No problem! Again, it’s a single platform and database.

  • Connect emergency response apps to third-party apps. As noted earlier, you may want to connect to services like Google Maps, or Calendar, SMS services to reach mobile devices, and more.

We encourage you to share ideas of things you are looking for in the apps on the Community Idea Portal or ask questions and share your accomplishments in the COVID-19 Resources group.

An inside look

I spoke with some of our internal developers, and here’s what they told me about building one of the apps. Keep in mind; they are using the same platform tools that you and I use - nothing special happening here.


The timeline for this app was concise!

  • March 9: CEO Bill McDermott announces we will be releasing the apps.

  • March 9: Requirements gathering commences with key stakeholders/sponsors.

  • March 10: Minimal viable product (MVP) ready to run. 24 hours!

  • March 12: After doing two releases a day, the first production release is ready.

THREE DAYS from idea to production.

Capabilities used

The team initially met to start whiteboarding ideas. Those were quickly put into ServiceNow and drove the development process.

  • Visual Task Boards - to keep tasks flowing.

  • Agile 2.0 - to keep developers focused on what to implement.

  • Flow Designer - provided quick and easy to maintain process flows.

  • Studio (and mobile studio) - kept everything organized.

  • Source control - made version management possible.

  • Automated Test Framework (ATF) - Enabled rapid app validation.

  • Heath scan - to ensure best practices were being observed.

  • Service Portal - to provide a great user experience.

Developer notes

From the beginning, this app was designed and built as a scoped app. That was important, not only to distribute it on the store but also to ensure the least risk of impacting other customer applications. Initially, the team was going to release it to Share, but for ease of searching, installation, and upgrades, the store was a better fit.

The goal from the start was to involve minimal other ServiceNow applications (e.g., HR) to ensure maximum help to customers without requiring additional product/plugin installations and potential licensing.

To minimize development time and reduce risk, the dev team used as many out-of-the-box Service Portal widgets as possible.

They kept the project stakeholders involved the entire way. As they made releases, the product matured quickly, and they have a great backlog of ideas to work against.


The biggest challenge to the build team was time. What they built in three days was nothing short of miraculous. Before being introduced to ServiceNow, building an app in such a short time was unimaginable. Now it’s the new normal.


The developers are the real heroes in this story. They took a short turn project and turned it into a product app within days of being told to do it. They observed some excellent best practices, kept the team involved, and made it happen.

The cool thing is - you can be a hero too! All these apps were built on the Now Platform with the same tools you use every day.