security operations center

Emergency Management Challenges & How to Overcome Them


From terror attacks to severe weather events, reports consistently identify the same types of challenges that characterize all crisis situations, with similar errors occurring over and over again.  Typically, these include fractured command and control structures, communication systems failures, delayed or inefficient deployment of resources.

Leadership Challenges

Most emergencies involve multiple response teams and agencies so it’s vital to know who is in charge, the chain of command, how the various responders should share intelligence and liaise at each stage in the event and what each group’s primary and secondary responsibilities are.  Most command and control systems lack a complete live common operating view, as well as the ability to instantly share vital information across the security team as an incident unfolds. When leadership struggles to see what resources are available and has difficulty relaying vital intelligence with in-house security staff, first-aiders, volunteers and other responders, it compounds their ability to efficiently coordinate an effective and rapid response; thereby hindering the chances of a successful outcome.

So how can leadership overcome these challenges?  There is ground-breaking command and control software available which is redefining what is possible and overcoming many of the limitations traditionally associated with command and control.  What if your emergency management and security solution enabled you to view the availability and location of every member of your safety and security team, openly communicate with them, coordinate their response, confirm actions have been taken, see the result of those actions, and issue new commands–all in real time, with a common operating picture.

The technology to support this is now available and facilitates timely sharing of intelligence with all or select staff.  Plus, with the ability to see the critical incident unfold in real-time, you can react to new developments and make adjustments to how you’ve deployed resources for optimal coverage and response.

Further strengthening the value proposition, this new technology is mobile-based so leaders can monitor and coordinate response from anywhere with a tablet or mobile device, or in the traditional security operations center. The technology also enables recording every incident so you can play back the event to facilitate debriefing sessions and identify future opportunities to elevate your team’s performance.

Ineffective Communications

Ineffective communication is often the weak link tied to ineffective emergency management operations.  In addition to communicating with those you’re responsible for protecting, it includes exchanges with all members of the response team, dialogue with staff, third party emergency services and agencies, security personnel, and others immediately or indirectly affected by the emergency incident, as well as liaison with the wider public via the media. The number of people you’re communicating with is complicated by the different functional roles you need to communicate with and the wide range of information these groups need to effectively respond, your geographic distance from the actual incident, uncertainty about who is in a given area and actually impacted by the incident, and the rapid pace with which an incident often unfolds.

Many organizations now have emergency notification apps which are used to send broadcast messages across an organization.  The functionality varies from one provider to another but there are some fairly important nuances worth discussing that help to address many of the challenges raised above.

Consistent with most aspects of emergency management, planning goes a long way to optimize your response.  You should look for a tool that enables you to predefine various groups by role so that you can customize messaging for them.  For example, creating a list of all of your fire wardens to facilitate evacuation notices is prudent so you can request they direct evacuees to particular muster points depending on the given incident.  Likewise, you will want to be able to send different messages to staff or students that may have special needs such as those that are physically disabled i.e. to assure them a fire warden has been notified of their location to assist with evacuation.

Creating lists in advance sounds straightforward but when you begin to compile, manage and edit these lists, it can quickly turn into a full-time job.  Look for a provider that supports an API to interface with HR directories so that lists can be maintained in one centralized place and are updated in real-time.

You should also look for an app that supports geo-targeted communications so that you can quickly ascertain who is in a given area and then send particular messaging to those in close proximity to the incident and advise others to stay in place and avoid the impacted area.

Also, you need an app that can support geographically dispersed areas so that you can message just as easily to those traveling abroad as you can to those just a few miles away. Related to geography, you want an intelligent app that knows where the end user is so that when they need to call for help, the number for emergency assistance is automatically programmed into the phone so they don’t need to stop and consider whether to dial 999 vs. 000 vs. 911 for help.

All of these advanced functions are readily available today and will help you and your team overcome many of the communication challenges traditionally associated with emergency management.

Dynamic and Widespread Incidents

Routine approaches to small-scale or less complex incidents do not scale for managing a major disruption. Yet evidence from the field repeatedly suggests that organizations that fail to implement systematic and well-rehearsed emergency procedures will struggle to manage a critical incident without detrimental implications for their continued business operations, stakeholder relationships, and long-term reputation which might otherwise have been avoided.

Large scale man-made or natural disasters are no stranger to corporate or university campuses. Most regions of the world face ongoing threats from weather-related storms, active assailants and even terrorism.  It’s not a question of if an emergency critical incident will occur, but rather when and where it will strike.

Even those institutions that do take the time to prepare often do not adequately conduct drills and exercises to account for the dynamic nature of these events and how far-reaching and impactful they can be.  For example, you may know what to do if a given building flooded but would you know what to do if in the course of a few hours, your entire corporate or university campus flooded, hundreds were stranded, power was lost, and you lacked the manpower to rescue the individuals?  Disasters are renowned for their unpredictability, so you need an emergency management app that is quite flexible and scalable.  Likewise, you need to be able to see how those you’re charged with protecting are reacting to the situation and monitor their progress to reaching safety.

For example, if there was a terror attack in Frankfurt, how could you identify which of your staff and/or students were in close proximity to the area, so you could advise them of the threat and direct them out of harm’s way? In this case, you need the ability to dynamically create a new geo-fenced safe zone that covers the impacted area so you can quickly take action.

Ideal Emergency Response Management Software

Again, while it may sound a bit far-fetched, all of this functionality exists today with distributed command and control solutions (DCC) which enable organizations to leverage the prevalence of smartphones with the latest cloud-based technology to support emergency operations.  By combining a comprehensive system equipped with situational awareness for response teams with a smartphone app, a DCC can extend the reach of first responders with a transformative effect and more efficiently coordinate all efforts and direct responders more efficiently. In doing so companies can minimize personal risk and injury, limit damage, improve business continuity and better protect the organization’s overall brand.

The safety capabilities and improvements mentioned in this article can all be accomplished with SafeZone®, an emergency management app and security solution that has been adopted by dozens of prestigious corporations and universities across the globe. Learn more about Safezone and request a demo today.

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