There’s only so much a corporation can do to counteract the threat of a major incident. You can ask everyone to be vigilant and to report anything suspicious, but you cannot stop someone intent on deliberately starting a fire, threatening a work colleague with a knife or something much worse. And of course, most businesses recognise that even routine events – such as burst pipes, IT system failures, extreme weather event or power outages – can have significant consequences unless they are quickly brought under control.

Training security officers

Governments and organisations across the world are increasingly encouraging businesses to re-assess risks and to plan for and conduct drills for major emergencies. This is driving different agencies and companies to invest in new skills, resources and systems, and encouraging businesses to routinely re-evaluate their emergency response strategies.

UK police forces are increasingly training security officers in the public and private sectors on how best to react to potential terrorist incidents

For example: UK police forces are increasingly training security officers in the public and private sectors on how best to react to potential terrorist incidents, as part of the UK government’s Action Counter Terrorism programme. And organisations including the Association of University Chief Security Officers (AUCSO) and Higher Education Business Continuity Network (HEBCoN) are developing customised training for their members to improve their own response and business continuity plans.

Mass notifications systems

Whether an organisation is facing a terrorist attack or a severe weather event, follow up reports consistently identify that the same types of challenges are common to all crisis situations, with similar errors often occurring again and again. Typically, these are centred on three key areas: poor communications, fractured command and control structures, and delayed deployment of resources.

Communications skills and technologies clearly play a pivotal role in how effective an organisation is in responding to major incidents, particularly when it comes to assessing the situation and its implications, moving people towards safety and providing updates as an incident unfolds. However, when an organisation is considering its technology options, emergency response and mass notification systems (MNS) are often touted as the ideal platform to deliver all the required critical communications and ongoing updates.

Police training terrorist threat
UK police forces are increasingly training security officers in the public and private sectors on how best to react to potential terrorist incidents

Emergency notification system

All the incident reporting, command and control, and communications functions have been brought together on a single platform

But, if an organisation does not know exactly where all its staff or students are, and it cannot see the location and availability of its first responders and other emergency coordinators relative to them and the incident, then how useful is it to send a top-down alert to everyone? And what about fast moving or multi-centre incidents, where previously agreed evacuation procedures, recommended actions or mustering points may need to change if an incident takes an unexpected turn?

Many organisations may have been lulled into believing that an emergency notification system will allow them to confidently handle all the communications aspects of virtually any crisis. In reality, too many businesses are still unaware that there are now much more sophisticated and proven technologies where all the incident reporting, command and control, and communications functions have been brought together on a single platform.

Using live map tracking

The benefit of using these advanced and more integrated approaches – often categorised as mobile distributed command and control systems – is that they enable faster and better decision making in a crisis using real-time feedback and two-way dialogue with those closest to the emergency. And they avoid the risks of any potential delays, miscommunications or mistakes that can happen when an organisation is under pressure to respond and often switching between multiple systems.

Leading universities and multi-national corporations are already using new mobile/web-enabled platforms to improve their incident response

These next generation emergency management platforms have been specifically designed to enable real-time mapping of an organisation’s security assets and its users on a single screen and to fully integrate it with a highly targeted geo-fenced notification capability. The mass notification aspect of the system can then be used to advise specific groups on the best actions to take at their location as an incident develops.

Live map tracking for emergency response
The use of live map tracking enables real time mapping of an organisation's security assets 

Segmented messaging

Many leading universities and multi-national corporations are already using these new mobile/web-enabled platforms to plan, manage and improve their incident response, leading to 50% faster reactions and more positive outcomes.During a crisis, users can receive push notifications so the security centre can immediately see their exact location and advise them accordingly The systems have been widely adopted within the higher-education sector, but they are equally applicable to any large company with multiple international sites or those situated in research or corporate campuses where the bulk of assets and people are based in one or more key locations. 

Typically, systems provide users with a smartphone app that they can use to call for immediate emergency or first aid support when at work, or to report something suspicious which could prevent an apparently minor incident from escalating into a full-scale emergency.

During a crisis, users can receive push notifications, SMS and E-mails asking them to open the app if they are not already logged in, so the security centre can immediately see their exact location and advise them accordingly.

Supporting dispersed mustering

Now that communications can be more nimble, responsive and flexible this can support the increasing numbers of planners are recognising the advantages of dispersed mustering. This is a strategy that has been developed to reduce the risk of secondary attacks on unprotected people complying with instructions to evacuate from premises and gather in what are, effectively, exposed locations. It is now acknowledged that evacuees waiting outside for any length of time are more vulnerable to targeted attacks or to injury, from flying glass for example.

With dispersed mustering – a strategy made more effective by these new mobile distributed command and control systems - a building’s occupants can be advised not to go outside, but to move to known safe internal locations. People in each specific area can then be kept regularly updated.

mobile and web enabled platforms for managing incident response
Many corporations are now using new mobile/web-enabled platforms to improve their incident response

Coordination between response agencies

The software platforms can be integrated with an organisation’s fixed security infrastructure to take real-time sharing of information

First responders are permanently logged in, so the emergency operations centre can see their exact locations in real-time and can advise what actions to take in mustering people or in setting up and protecting security cordons. Bringing everything together on one platform, with real-time feedback and in a fully integrated system also removes what is often seen as the weakest communication link in managing any major incident: the need to rely on conventional two-way radio as the sole means of communication between the command and control centre and its first responders and other team members on the ground.

The software platforms can be integrated with an organisation’s fixed security infrastructure to take real-time sharing of information to a new level for improved collaboration, coordination and communications between users, the incident management team and external agencies.

Improving emergency response strategies

One of the most powerful features of some of these new systems is the ability to record and view all alerts, responses and the detailed conversations between first responders, emergency coordinators and other parties. This allows the systems to be used to simulate major incidents involving inputs from the emergency services and other key agencies and to ensure the organisation’s crisis management plans have been fully tested against a range of possible incident scenarios.

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Darren Chalmers-Stevens Managing Director, EMEA & APAC, CriticalArc

Darren Chalmers-Stevens serves as a Director for EMEA region at CriticalArc. Darren is an experienced senior technology executive, with proven success in sales, business development, partner management and building world-class teams for international technology and services companies.

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