The Station Fire ripped through communities along the northern rim of Los Angeles in August and September, consuming an area more than 160,000 acres. Evacuations came with little or no warning, homes and buildings lost, and the entire ordeal put a tremendous strain on utilities and resources. Including water.
When the city of Glendale needed to quickly alert residents to lower their water and power use to enable fire fighters to gain access to critical resources, they turned to a local company, Everbridge, to reach citizens with real-time notifications alerting them to the emergency.
On Thursday night Marc Ladin, VP of Global Marketing at Everbridge, walked CTC members though an introduction to emergency and incident communications management.
The Need for Emergency Management
Communications technology has made incredible leaps in utility, applications, ands capacity over the past few years. We can reach nearly any point or person in the world through telephone, mobile phones, Internet email, Twitter, Blackberry messaging, radio, television – the list is becoming endless.
Regardless of the technologies, natural and man-made disasters and problems remain a part of our lives, and will always be part of our lives. Our businesses, governments, and even survival, depends on how we prepare for disaster, and are able to respond to events that touch our lives. Good events and bad.
Marc Ladin makes a living solving the problem of communicating during emergencies and events. The residents of Glendale, like most communities in the United States, offers residents the option of registering their preferred communications devices with the city.
This gives the city an immediate channel to reach and inform residents in the event of disasters and other incidents of interest or impact to the city and residents.
In the case of the Station Fire, Glendale was able to immediately reach enough residents, and the city was able to lower residential utility draw to the level fire fighters had adequate water resources to protect the community.
The same model applies across the spectrum of emergency notification.
The Enterprise Business Continuity Plan
Nobody wants to think of a disaster that will hurt people, or isolate them from their family or organizations. However, it is also clear that any organization needs to have a business continuity plan in place, and a disaster response plan in place to allow the organization to quickly respond to, and manage, any event that will potentially damage the organization's ability to function.
Consider this scenario. A large multi-national chemical products company. Highly visible in the world business community, and customers located around the world.
The worst case scenario happens. At the HQ site an explosion occurs in the manufacturing plant, killing several person in senior leadership roles, and requiring a massive response by emergency services and evacuation in the surrounding community.
Who do we need to notify to respond to the emergency, and who needs to know about the problem?
- First responders – fire fighters, HAZMAT teams, ambulances, local hospitals, police
- Local Community – residents, media (radio and television)
- Company leadership – management, public affairs, operations
- National and global media
How do you get the message – the real message – out to those people?
How do we determine if somebody is trapped in the disaster area, and needs help?
The process is getting easier. Every person, machine, and device connected to the Internet or other global communications service can be part of the event notification process.
Registering Your Communications Device for Notification
A company such as Everbridge offers as utility for managing emergency and event notifications. The utility (Everbridge) operates as a SaaS (Software as a Service) application, physically separated from the users. The SaaS application resides on several geographically diverse data centers, with multiple communication providers providing the conduit for global device notification access.
An organization will compile a table of their users and devices, with an individual having the ability to register all their available communications devices (mobile phones, email, Twitter accounts, etc), including a preference on notification priority (i.e., mobile phone message first, email second, home phone third…).
The organization then has the ability to sort members into different categories of notification. An example of how an organization might be sorted is:
- C-level management notifications
- Persons notified during emergencies
- Geography (everybody in the Long Beach office, everybody in the Atlanta office, everybody in Japan, etc)
- Function (operations, engineering, marketing and sales)
- Local area first responders
- And any other desired sort
Of course a single entry is easily tagged for multiple notification categories.
How to Make a Notification
In a traditional environment company leadership wants to make a notification. They may have their secretary make phone calls, might call an operations center and open a notification checklist, or other time-tested process.
The modern notification system can use a wider variety of methods for generating a notification:
- A human being opens a web page and types in a notification message for distribution
- A human being prepares an email or SMS message, and sends it to an address that spawns the desired notification tree
- A machine experiences a condition that requires a human response
- Fire alarm
- Equipment failure
- Security break-in or event
Once the message is triggered, and the notifications made, then you need to make a decision on whether or not the notified persons need to acknowledge or respond to the notification. Modern systems also manage and automate the acknowledgement process by logging replies to the notification message, allowing the alert initiator to determine if everybody has received the message.
This is important if you are managing a disaster, and need to determine if somebody could potentially be hurt or in danger, or if you need to escalate a decision situation to the next person in a business continuity plan.
With GPS capability, it is now even possible to determine the exact location of a desired device, further helping locate persons in a disaster. Consider a heart patient with an active monitoring device – that device can be registered in a hospital, first-responder, family, and neighbor notification matrix. This will increase the probability that person will survive in the event of health problems.
Other Creative Ways to Use a Notification System
Of course the same system that handles emergencies can also handle positive messages. The marketing group can use the same notification system for press releases, management can deliver positive company results to employees – basically once the person and device/s are registered in a data base, the entry can be used for whatever desired.
Marc Ladin presented a great vision. His company is putting the vision into reality, and has a lot of exciting features available today, and in the mill for tomorrow.
John Savageau, Long Beach