Protecting a mobile workforce – Lessons from France and Germany

In November 2015, Paris fell victim to the single deadliest terror attack in French history. March 2016 saw a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks leave Brussels in a state of shock and July 2016 brought yet more fear and uncertainty in Nice.

Lessons must be learnt from these increasingly common acts of terrorism – communication in the midst of crisis is crucial and must be made as simple as possible. As a business, what do you do in a crisis of this magnitude? How do you communicate with your workforce? How do you ensure that everyone is safe?

Creating a strategic, non-intrusive, fail safe communications plan can be challenging. Today crisis communications software can help businesses to communicate with employees in any circumstances but what should businesses look for in an emergency communications platform?

Power of multi-modal communication

One of the most important lessons to be learnt is the effectiveness of multi-modal communications. The central problem is that no single delivery path is ever 100 per cent reliable, 100 per cent of the time. Emergency notifications must be multi-modal, utilising every available contact path until delivery is acknowledged.

When the emergency situation unfolded across the Belgian capital, the GSM network went offline, making mobile communication via traditional mobile routes virtually impossible. Knowing this, the team at Brussels Airport made its public Wi-Fi discoverable and free of a network key, allowing anyone with a Wi-Fi enabled device to connect and send messages out quickly. This enabled notifications to be sent via email, messaging apps and even social media platforms when traditional mobile network routes failed.

The ability to receive a response to a message quickly and effectively is the second central consideration for emergency communications. When notifications allow quick and simple responses, visibility over the situation is increased and a business can know which employees are safe, and which employees remain at risk. If a business knows it has 200 employees in a risk zone, combining multi-modal communications with a simple response and confirmation request form saying ‘I am safe’ or ‘I am not safe’ enables a business to assess, in minutes, the wellbeing of employees and to deploy a plan to help and support them.

Privacy v Protection

The attacks also demonstrated that crisis communication plans are far more effective when supported by effective location information. Easy access to accurate location information means a business can take a risk-based approach to targeting communications. For instance, if you had a sales force operating at various locations across a city when a series of terrorist attacks happen, how do you know exactly where your people are and which ones might be in danger?

Some companies use GPS tracking dongles but these are expensive and liable to be lost or stolen. It could also be argued that they are intrusive as they cannot be turned off. Employees want to be safe in the event of an emergency but they may also have concerns about their privacy.

Unlocking the power of location

The answer is to capitalise on information that is already being collected and use it smartly to understand more about where an employee might be. Employees already provide information on where they are in various different ways. For example when employees log on to a company Wi-Fi network it is safe to assume they are in a certain building. Furthermore access pass information (which is being collected anyway) also provides insight into location. By combining this data the employer can understand where someone is located without needing to generate additional location information or cause concern amongst employees that they are being tracked.

This is a way that organisations can then receive regular updates and alerts regarding their employees’ last known location. In a crisis situation, the employer has a better idea where people are, allowing Incident Management teams to co-ordinate a more effective response.

The Power of Unified Platforms

The most effective crisis management plans incorporate technology. Rather than implementing a mismatch of different services and platforms, the most unified response requires a single platform with multiple functions that includes everything from emergency mass notification systems, to VOIP capability, IT alerting, location based data and everything in between. Not only does a unified platform provide a more comprehensive framework, meaning a business’s emergency responses are more wide-reaching and effective, but they are also much more cost-effective.

As modern workforces continue to go mobile, it becomes extremely difficult to keep track of everyone’s locations, schedules and travel plans. Location alerting software allows employers to quickly locate and communicate with all of their staff, increasing visibility, reducing incident response times and improving overall employee safety.

Safety Connection goes beyond location-enabled mobile app check-ins, to enable organisations to leverage network access points to identify employee locations within a building, as well as access control system data (when an employee badges in to a building), travel management system data (to gain an accurate record of the expected location of an employee) and room reservation system data (to find employees in specific conference rooms).

For many organisations, intelligent platforms of this type are a significant step up from call cascade systems and SMS blasters. Businesses do not know what is around the corner and must prepare to be able to handle a crisis.

By using the lessons of the past to help formulate emergency planning, we will all be better prepared to face the challenges of the future.

Andrew Woods, Business Continuity and Resiliency Management Consultant, Everbridge

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