Benefits of cloud communications in a crisis situation

Europe At Golden Sunrise - View From SpaceNick Hawkins, Managing Director EMEA of Everbridge, discusses how in crisis situations organisations can use cloud-based platforms to communicate with employees anywhere in the world to identify which employees may be affected, communicate instructions quickly, and receive responses to verify who may be at risk.

In November 2015, the people of Paris were victims of a series of co-ordinated terrorist attacks that targeted several locations and venues across the city.  Whilst emergency services were left to deal with the aftermath of the deadliest attack on the French capital since the Second World War, businesses across Europe were once again reminded of the importance of having effective emergency planning procedures that help to protect employees in the event of a crisis.

In the event of any emergency or crisis situation—such as the attacks in Paris—secure, effective and reliable communication is crucial.  Modern workforces are mobile, so it is vital for businesses of all sizes to ensure that the bilateral lines of communication between management and staff remain open in any situation.  It can be difficult for organisations to manually keep track of everyone’s locations, schedules and travel plans at all times.  The solution is to utilise the power of a critical communications platform to implement crisis management plans that will help to keep businesses operational and effective in the event of an emergency, and ensure that staff are safe and protected.

Location Data

The benefits of opting to use a cloud-based platform in the event of crisis are twofold.  Firstly, they allow for location-mapping functions to be easily installed on employee’s smartphones, meaning that business’ can receive regular alerts and updates on their employee’s last known locations.  This wealth of data is then readily accessible should a crisis situation develop, ensuring that management are not only able to locate all of their staff but are also able to coordinate a more effective response, prioritising and deploying resources to help those employees who are deemed to be at risk.  Without this location mapping function, businesses are left in the dark and forced to rely solely on traditional routes of communication to find out if their staff are in danger.

For example, if you had a mobile sales force out at various events across London when a series of terrorist attacks disables the GSM network and makes traditional mobile communication virtually impossible, what would you do? How would you know if you staff are safe?

Organisations with crisis management plans that include using a cloud-based location mapping device are instantly able to know that Employee A is out of the impact zone and safe, whilst Employee B is at the epicentre of the crisis and likely to be in danger, making communicating with them the top priority.

The common alternative to using cloud-based software to track the location of employees is to use GPS tracking devices.  However, not only are these expensive and liable to be lost or stolen, but they are also unable to be turned off.  The advantage of using application-based software installed on an employee’s smartphone is that the location alert function can be turned off whilst they are not travelling.  The most proactive businesses agree hostile areas and travel restrictions with staff as a key part of their emergency planning procedures, with staff agreeing to make sure that location-mapping is always turned on whilst traveling and in areas that are deemed to be at risk.  This allows the function to be switched off when an employee is in a safe-zone, providing a balance between staff privacy and protection.

Secure, Two-way Messaging

The second advantage to implementing secure, cloud-based communication platforms into a business’ emergency communications plan is that it enables users to quickly and reliably send secure messages to all members of staff, individual employees and specific target groups of people.  These crisis notifications are sent out through multiple contact paths which include: SMS messaging; emails; VOIP calls; voice-to-text alerts; app notifications and many more.  In fact, with cloud-based software installed on an employee’s smartphone, there are more than 100 different contact paths that management can use to communicate and send secure messages to their workforce, wherever they may be in the world.  This is a crucial area where cloud-based platforms have an advantage over other forms of crisis communication tools; unlike the SMS blasters of the past, emergency notifications are not only sent out across all available channels and contact paths, but continue to be sent out until the recipient acknowledges them.

This two-way polling feature means that businesses can design bespoke templates to send out to staff in the event of an emergency, which allows them to quickly respond and inform the company as to their current status and whether they are in need of any assistance.   Being able to send out notifications and receive responses, all within a few minutes, means businesses can rapidly gain visibility of an incident and react more efficiently to an unfolding situation.

Power of Wi-Fi Enabled Devices

By utilising cloud computing and capitalising on the capabilities of the one device an employee is most likely to have on or near their persons at all times—their smartphone—lines of communication can remain open, even when more traditional routes are out of order. For example, during the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels in March 2016 the GSM network went offline, making standard mobile communication impossible.  The citizens of the Belgian capital were unable to send messages to family, friends and work colleagues.  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. For crisis management and business continuity, this ability to remain in contact with employees is essential to ensuring that both a business and its staff are protected and capable of handling an emergency.

In crisis situations businesses need to have a plan that works in real life, not just on paper.  Secure, cloud-based communications platforms enable a business to react and protect itself and its staff from any harm, ensuring that the organisation is best prepared to face the challenges of the future.