In the event of an emergency, effective communication is vital to ensure an organisation’s timely response. Nick Hawkins, Managing Director of Everbridge EMEA, discusses how cloud-based communications technology can help organisations keep their employees safe and blue-light services improve their emergency responses.
The shocking events of September 11th 2001 highlighted the communication challenges that can occur during emergencies. Contact paths were affected for both workers in the Twin Towers and the emergency staff trying to rescue them. As the initial shock of the deliberate act of terrorism subsided, a new threat emerged as fire raged through the two buildings. In a time of extreme shock and panic, confusion reigned with people first being told to leave the buildings then later being advised to stay.
Following the events of 9/11, critical communications platforms have been developed to oversee and manage emergency communications, harnessing the power of the latest cloud-based technology to locate, communicate and help protect people in crisis or emergency situations, including the outbreak of fire. These platforms can be deployed by employers to get a better understanding of when their employees are in danger or by emergency services to more effectively co-ordinate responses.
In the event of a fire breaking out in an organisation’s building, a critical communications platform can significantly help improve evacuation processes and the deployment of resources to co-ordinate and manage the emergency.
Once a fire has been detected, an emergency notification can be sent in seconds to alert employees of the immediate danger. These notifications can keep staff up-to-date on the fast-changing situation and make them aware of safe evacuation routes.
No communication path is 100% reliable, 100% of the time – Wi-Fi fails; mobile networks go offline and apps crash – relying on one contact path could be a costly risk. For this reason, the most effective critical communications platforms have multi-modal functionality. This is the ability to send out notifications using many different communications channels, including SMS, email, VoIP calls, social media alerts and app notifications amongst many others. This ensures messages get through to the right people at the right time.
The most effective systems allow for two-way communication between an organisation and its employees, meaning staff are able to instantly respond to an emergency notification and make employers aware of their status. The platforms two-way polling feature allows recipients to respond with the push of a button, letting an organisation know that they are ‘safe’ or ‘not safe’. By building a clear picture of an incident within minutes, organisations can prioritise those in danger.
Crisis communications platforms – such as the Everbridge platform – automate the traditionally time-intensive communication process, improving an organisation’s emergency response times. The persistent sending of notifications via multi-modal techniques provides employees and civilians with the peace of mind that their safety is paramount.
Importance of location alerting
Dynamic location tracking and alerting can be useful for safeguarding the well-being of employees. Many organisations integrate critical communication platforms with physical security systems to identify, communicate with and account for people during disruptive events. By inputting data that organisations already have – such as Wi-Fi network points and building access information – the platform is able to interpret real-time geo-location data, even for people moving between locations and prioritise those most at risk.
Systems that enable employees to initiate communications have a much greater impact in protecting their safety in location-based emergencies. For instance, if an employee discovers a fire, panic button capabilities can prove extremely valuable. Everbridge’s smartphone application has SOS alerting and panic button capabilities built-in, so employees can send a message directly to an organisation’s security team. This automatically transmits the employee’s location and begins sharing audio and video data via the user’s smartphone, with just the push of a button.
Protecting a mobile workforce
According to a 2015 report by Strategy Analytics, the global mobile workforce is expected to grow to more than 1.75 billion by 2020, accounting for almost half of the entire workforce worldwide. The effect of globalisation on business means employees are regularly travelling between locations, often to different cities and countries. As a consequence, keeping mobile workers safe from harm during emergencies is rising up the corporate agenda.
If an organisation had a sales team attending a conference in California when a large scale wildfire broke out, it would be able to send out a notification to alert them of the impending danger, receive their response and provide actions to guide them to safety. Communications platforms help automate and streamline emergency responses and enable organisations to prioritise the safety of its workforce.
Benefits to an organisation
One important advantage for organisations that implement a critical communications platform is that it is a secure, cloud-based solution that operates independently from an internal network. If a severe fire damages hardware running a company’s network, making standard communication difficult, an organisation using a critical communications platform knows it still has the ability to communicate quickly and efficiently with all staff.
Technology of this nature is also extremely flexible to a user’s needs, with organisations able to scale-up the platform to incorporate an infinite number of people and data-sets. It also allows organisations to build bespoke templates and workflows based on its specific requirements and processes. For an organisation of any size, having a multi-functional critical communications platform can aid effective everyday communications. For instance, the platform can be used to keep employees aware of important safety information such as upcoming fire drills and changes to evacuation procedure or fire assembly points.
Supporting emergency services
For Fire and Rescue teams and other blue-light services, communications platforms can and are being used to improve emergency response. The mass notification function enables control rooms to send out targeted alerts to response teams to inform them of an emergency. Depending on the scale of the crisis, these can be sent out to both on-call and off-duty staff to gauge the availability of resources to resolve the incident.
Pre-templated responses enable incident management teams to quickly assess who is available to respond to a crisis. For example, Guy’s & St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust uses a communications platform to send messages with the option to respond with “on site and available”; “off site and available”; “off site and not available”. Using this approach the Trust has been able to generate 80% responses within minutes, giving it a clearer picture of the resources it has at its disposal.
Beyond the more effective co-ordination of emergency responses, critical communications platforms play an important role in public safety. During a major emergency, such as a wildfire spreading to a densely populated area (e.g. Californian wildfires, Summer 2016) or an earthquake, notifications can also be sent to residents to warn them that they need to evacuate the area and by which routes.
By utilising the location capabilities of the platform, incident control teams are able to use geo-location data to track their on-call staff and provide estimated time of arrival (ETA) updates to other emergency services already at the scene. During a widespread and catastrophic disaster like the infamous ‘Black Saturday’ bushfires in Australia in 2009, this technology would have significantly helped co-ordinate the efforts of fire crews on the ground.
The future of emergency communications
With a rise in the number of critical events worldwide – such as natural disasters and acts of terror – it is more important than ever that emergency services and organisations of all sizes have the tools to be able to locate and communicate with employees and civilians, whatever the crisis and even when traditional routes of communication are unavailable.
In an emergency, every second counts. Organisations and emergency services cannot afford to waste time searching spread sheets and schedules to manually notify employees and on-call staff. Automated and reliable crisis communications platforms can make the difference between life and death.
For more information, go to www.everbridge.com