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Critical Communications: Using Social Media in a Crisis

by Brian Sims

From terrorist attacks to major cyber breaches, the world suddenly seems to be more dangerous. On top of concerns about the security of employees, IT systems and supply chains comes pressure from investors, clients and regulators to ensure that organisations are ready to act quickly to pre-empt or mitigate problems caused by these events, writes Dataminr.

Jake Hernandez, global consulting director at AnotherDay (a fast-growing strategic and security consulting firm that focuses on forethought and prevention to enable its clients to operate as safely as possible), explained: “We find that organisations often create their own crises. Either they haven’t had the time to do any crisis planning or they’ve simply done too much and overcomplicated the process with vast documents and procedures that are both complex and unworkable.”

Adding to this challenge is the way in which news of an incident is reported. Social media supports the instantaneous spread of information and has made news dissemination faster than ever before. Whether it’s a suspected terror attack, a natural disaster or a data breach, information about an event will travel around the world in seconds thanks to the rapid rise of what some have dubbed ‘the citizen reporter’.

It was to harness the power of publicly available social media – starting with Twitter as the fastest purveyor of news wherever and whenever it might be breaking – that Dataminr was founded back in 2009.

Today, Dataminr discovers, distils and delivers real-time information on breaking events, using publicly available information from social media, blogs, sensors and The Dark Web. Using proprietary algorithms and machine learning technology, Dataminr sends clients real-time alerts such that security teams can quickly prepare the most effective response to unforeseen incidents.

Speed of reporting

Corporations depend on Dataminr to help keep their personnel, facilities, operations and interests safe around the world. Political and terror-related risks have always been around, but these days the key is the speed at which they’re reported thanks mainly to social media, and the ability of organisations to react with equal alacrity and agility as they exploit the power of social media as a source of news.

“In this volatile atmosphere, what matters is the speed of the alert,” observed Tim Willis, director of EMEA corporate security at Dataminr. “Before anyone else, the company was able to inform its customers that last month’s Oxford Circus incident was not, in fact, a terrorist incident.”

Following Dataminr’s first alert about the event at 4.46 pm, by 5.11 pm the company was sending updates to inform clients that the incident appeared to be contained. Crisis management teams were able to stand down their crisis procedures earlier than if they had relied on traditional sources of information.

AnotherDay uses Dataminr’s services to turn the ocean of public data provided into useful, actionable information that its clients can use in their crisis response procedures. “We have the Dataminr app running constantly on our desktops at AnotherDay and our consultants have it on their smart phones wherever they are in the world so that we can all receive alerts for terrorist incidents, cyber attacks or other threats,” added Jake Hernandez. “We can then use our understanding of our individual clients’ operations to put these alerts into context. We can say to an insurer, for instance: ‘This is what has just happened. This is what it means for you and this is what other companies like you have done in similar situations’.”

Supply chains

Both Dataminr and AnotherDay are brought in by departments ranging from the communications team and corporate security through to HR and – increasingly in these days of ‘just-in-time’ delivery – those directly responsible for supply chain management.

Following an alert about political instability, one Dataminr client that transports refrigerated medicines across Turkey was able to keep drugs in its refrigerated warehouses. Had they been transported, the drugs would have deteriorated when roadblocks delayed the lorries, thereby impacting storage conditions and costing hundreds of thousands of pounds.

“Companies are now realising that not only can they reduce their risk, but they can also gain an advantage over their competitors who are not managing such risks as well,” highlighted Tim Willis.

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