Critical events were commonplace across the world last year, ranging from major weather episodes such as Hurricane Irma through to large-scale cyber attacks and on again to the shocking terrorist attacks in London, Manchester, America and Sweden, not to mention many other locations around the world, writes Owen Miles. Of course, there were also myriad smaller local events, IT failures and emergencies, all of them with the potential to have a detrimental impact on business.
At the heart of every single one of these incidents are the people at risk. It’s therefore vital that today’s organisations take the lead in implementing a crisis management plan designed to deal with disruptive and unexpected events that threaten to harm the business, its staff and assets or the general public.
In today’s highly connected world, effective and trusted communication is vital when it comes to fostering a safe and resilient workforce and community. Organisations need to embrace technology and ensure that they’re prepared to share critical updates during all types of incidents both major and minor in scale. The speed and comprehensiveness of how organisations handle critical events can not only affect the productivity of teams, but also ultimately makes a huge difference in the effectiveness of the outcome.
A critical event management solution enables organisations to adopt an integrated approach during a major incident, with one cohesive platform for managing events through four key stages – assess, locate, act and analyse – all underpinned by communications allowing you to visualise, orchestrate and collaborate to respond to incidents.
The first step in responding to any situation is to assess the threat. Understanding what has happened is critical, but can often be very challenging as there’s rarely a single source of truth. Pulling in information from multiple, reliable sources, such as weather intelligence, live video feeds, official news reports and trusted communication channels enables you to establish a picture of what has happened and augment that with information from other sources such as communications from those on the front line and social media. You can then build a real picture.
Collating information feeds and contextual information into a single view either within a Command Centre or a Control Room makes it far simpler and quicker for an organisation to determine the impact of an event on people, business and reputation.
Once you have an understanding of what has happened, it’s vital to determine whether it impacts you, your organisation or your assets. This is what changes an event into a critical event that demands a response.
Often, organisations are slowed down by having information stored in multiple disparate systems that require manual collation from different information silos, such as travel itineraries, building access control systems and Wi-Fi logins.
Centralising and layering location information for your people, buildings and vehicles allows you the confidence to know who and what is impacted, while integrated asset and threat data provides you with a common operating picture so you can quickly identify critical events that may threaten life safety or cause business disruptions
Having determined that the event is indeed an incident that you need to respond to and knowing where your response teams – ie those with the skills and responsibility to respond – are often results in a more cohesive and rapid deployment of those teams into the areas where they’re most needed.
Added to this is that some critical events will extend over many days. You need to consider who’s coming in to relieve those on duty. Allowing those who are new to the incident a full picture of what has happened ensures a smooth transition between responding teams.
Beyond critical events, employee location data is also useful for staff management and day-to-day safety. Solutions that understand your employees’ current and predicted locations can provide useful notifications relevant to their journeys and destinations. This type of location-based awareness helps to protect not just workers in offices, but also mobile, remote and lone workers.
By understanding employee location, you can not only protect them during critical events, but also provide them with updates that guide them around disruptions on a regular basis, protect them on call-outs or when working late and potentially prevent an event becoming critical in the first place.
Once a threat has been assessed and people located, the next step is to act on the information at hand. Everyone affected, including employees at work, those that have left recently or may be commuting or those travelling in the region or area affected can be sent a safety check notification via SMS, e-mail, automated voice calls and mobile push notifications with their responses automatically recorded and collated to confirm when each individual is safe. They can be sent instructions and advice on how to remain safe or called upon and, if they’re part of the relevant response teams, the can start taking actions.
Most businesses cannot afford for work to halt during a critical event and should ensure that they have prepared for an incident by setting up the right tools to allow for communications with stakeholders, while at the same time bringing back-up and recovery teams online.
For example, in a scenario whereby a small-scale evacuation of an airport terminal building is required, the Command Centre can target communications to reach only those individuals who are affected, such as passengers, staff or retailers present in the building. This can be done via a multi-modal approach using SMS or e-mail to reach passengers checked into flights. PA systems may be employed and displays updated on departure boards, ensuring only those affected are re-routed to other areas to minimise the impact of the event. Resolvers can be sent to rectify the situation, subsequently allowing a rapid return to ‘business as usual’.
Fundamental to managing a critical event is the ability to orchestrate and communicate with key stakeholders, potentially the impacted staff, responders and resolvers. Two-way communications are vital in this situation, allowing employees to quickly notify their employer that they are safe or confirm they’re accepting a responder’s role, and enabling the company to share regular status updates with them and deploy their response teams to where they are needed.
Without a critical event management system in place to enable targeted messages to the right people at the right time, confusion will exacerbate a major event. People need a trusted source of information to rely on to be able to make decisions. Using targeted communications through notifications to mobile devices, people can be alerted and updated in real-time as an incident unfolds. To be effective, these communications must cover the whole spectrum of the incident, from an initial update to ongoing developments, and also notify when the ‘all clear’ has been declared.
Communications during crises are vital, as they provide ongoing reassurance, letting companies know that their employees are not in harm’s way, and especially so if a work trip/commute has inadvertently put them in danger or at risk of disruption. Employees are comforted to know that the organisation in whom they invest their time and energy has their safety front of mind. This leads to increased security of people and assets and heightened morale, and can also help foster a positive company culture which embraces crisis response as an ethos leading to faster responses in critical situations.
Following the resolution of an incident, it’s vital that companies take time to analyse how they responded to the situation and how that response could be improved. What were the most effective communication channels? Was anyone not informed quickly enough who should have been? Assessment of any incident is a critical step in improving response times to future threats as businesses review audit trails and learn from past incidents, duly feeding this detail into the planning process to ensure better and faster responses next time.
Critical events should be managed just as any other major business function, with clear lines of responsibility, accountability and visibility. This is arguably more important today than ever before given the ever-evolving threat landscape that we now face.
However, it’s also important to consider that organisations will often have differing views of what they consider to be a critical event. Depending on the nature of their operations this can and will vary widely. For example, some companies might only regard an incident that poses an immediate threat to life as being a critical situation and consider a minor slowdown in their IT operations to be a nuisance, but nothing more, whereas a large e-retailer might lose millions of pounds in revenue if impacted by the same disruption.
Companies must start looking at the benefits that critical event management solutions can bring and ensure they have adequate plans in place. Failure to do so can put them at significant risk of damage to their brand, reputation and the bottom line at a time when minutes really do matter.
Owen Miles is Managing Consultant for Professional Services (EMEA) at Everbridge