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9-1-1 Magazine: Managing Emergency Communications

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Public Safety & Local Business: 6 Emergency Communication Trends to Watch for in 2016

Author: Oded Shekel, Head of Product, AtHoc

Copyright: 9-1-1 Magazine, Feature Content

Date: 2015-12-30
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As businesses take stock of the past year and consider what 2016 has in store for them, one thing that is unlikely to change is the risk of emergencies. Whether it’s natural disasters, workplace accidents, or incidents of violence, there is a constant need for vigilance and effective communication during a crisis, within and between organizations as well as from the private sector to the public safety community. What can change from year to year; however, are trends within the emergency communication industry that can impact how organizations prepare for a crisis. 

As other areas of technology continue evolving, here are six emergency communication trends that will impact businesses 2016 – and what public safety agencies should know as they interface with them in their communities.

 

Interoperable Cross-Organizational Collaboration

A common thread in large-scale emergencies throughout the United States over the last decade has been the difficulty of communication between organizations, from first responders to local businesses to government agencies. Cross-agency collaboration has received significant attention on the federal level, even resulting in legislation mandating interoperable communications at the national level. As a result, federal agencies are building and implementing systems and platforms that enable this greater level of interoperable communication during an emergency.

In 2016, more private organizations will take these governmental lessons into consideration, and we will see a greater number of organizations deploy systems that enable them to simplify communication with relevant community and public safety organizations during a crisis. This will require targeting of emergency information only to the right authorities and applicable organizations. It will not be implemented as a public feed, but rather as a network of applicable connections within the emergency community. An important part of this collaboration will be the ability to share more than text. As mobile alerting becomes the norm, we expect more companies will adopt the ability to share videos, photos, geolocation information, and more to provide complete context and aid in decision making by the appropriate authorities. More information will result in better decisions and faster resolution of the crisis situation, especially as it interfaces with public safety response and coordination.

 

The Enterprise Approach

For any company investing in new technology, the question is how far to go to ensure current and future needs are met without overcommitting resources. For those that deploy an emergency notification system – for executive leadership, general staff, or company safety teams - without anticipating the correct level of growth, as the user base grows, they experience complexity that their system is unable to handle. The result is a fragmented system with decentralized control, which makes effective alerting nearly impossible.

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As the market matures and organizations develop more concrete emergency communication policies, 2016 should see an increase in large businesses that adopt an enterprise-level notification system. As a result they will have the technological capability of delegating emergency operations to various departments and campuses, while retaining a degree of central control to manage organization-wide emergencies when necessary.

 

Information Security vs. Cloud Computing

For years now organizations of all sizes have been steadily adopting cloud services because of the flexibility and cost savings they provide. Meanwhile, however, concerns about information security are more pronounced than ever, with data breaches of all kinds featuring prominently in technology news. For this reason some agencies, particularly large enterprises  as well as confidential information-minded public safety agencies, have been more cautious in their cloud adoption. This caution includes keeping the personal identifying information (PII) used in mass notification systems behind the firewall. 

Despite hesitation, however, cloud adoption will only march forward, and in 2016 we expect to see public safety and businesses alike finding the right balance between controlling their information and taking advantage of cloud infrastructure. That will entail the continued development of policies and practiced related to protecting PII, and further evolution of a hybrid approach to communication, where the delivery service is accomplished via the cloud and the information itself remains safe behind the corporate firewall. As a result, more organizations will embrace government-level security standards without compromising their ability to utilize the cloud.

 

Integration with End Devices

One of the biggest buzzwords of the last few years has been the Internet of Things (IoT), and it’s a game-changing trend for businesses, public safety, and individuals. With billions of devices now networked together and capable of an ever-increasing number of tasks, people are more connected than ever before. While in many ways this is a matter of convenience, when it comes to emergency communication and coordination it can be a matter of life and death.

With more devices connected to networks, centrally controlled communications can now be sent out simultaneously via a large number of channels. In addition, not only are these devices connected to networks, but many are also used as sensors to inform the emergency community, including phone cameras, heart monitors, etc. In 2016 we expect to see a greater push in unifying alerting activities across devices. In addition to desktop pop-up notifications and emails, more businesses will invest in systems that allow employees to receive alerts via smartphones, radios, digital displays, sirens, social media and more, tailored to the specific business and its unique needs; this includes volunteer fire department as well as corporate fire brigade/safety team notification. The result is quicker communication with employees for faster emergency response. 

 

International Alerting Capabilities

With today’s always-on global economy, enterprises have a variety of language barriers to deal with as a part of everyday operations. A single office space may have ten or more native languages spoken by employees. Many of these will have normal channels of translation and interpretation to meet every day needs, but during an emergency there is rarely time for language-related delays. 

To ensure the delivery of clear, understandable alerts, 2016 will see important improvements in the way alerts are administered. End users who receive alerts on mobile devices and desktops will more frequently have the option of selecting their desired language. Furthermore, the operators of emergency notification systems will have more options for selecting languages for delivery. And finally, the entire alerting experience from operators to recipients will be available in the preferred language of the user, without location-specific constraints. This also means greater language diversity when contacting 9-1-1 on various devices and coordinating with inbound first responders.

 

The Complete Mobile Experience

Related to the dramatic increase of interconnected devices is the further maturation of the mobile device as a do-it-all tool. For years now smartphones and tablets have been able to receive alerts as text messages and through purpose-built apps. What 2016 will bring, however, is a richer, fully capable mobile experience for emergency communication for private as well as public entities. Not only will users be able to receive a variety of information through these devices, but the system operators will be able to manage the entire alerting process from any web-enabled device. This will be a significant development for employees who find themselves in an emergency situation but lack computer access, and it stands to greatly improve overall emergency preparedness by increasing accessibility of alerting activities; just as it also reflects increased diversity in which devices will be accessing local 9-1-1 systems.

 

While 2016 will be a year of constant improvement, the end result will be businesses that are better prepared to protect their people and their local communities.

 

Oded Shekel is responsible for AtHoc's Product Management and User Experience. He brings more than 15 years of product experience in both consumer and enterprise products. AtHoc, a division of BlackBerry Limited, provides a seamless and reliable exchange of critical information among organizations, their people and devices. AtHoc is the leading provider to the U.S. Departments of Defense and Homeland Security, and safeguards numerous other government agencies and leading commercial enterprises. For more information about AtHoc, please visit www.athoc.com.

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