Why a unified communications platform is imperative for public safety
Informed decision-making rests at the core of an effective response to any incident or event. Whether public or private sector, organizations must be capable of building a real-time, accurate picture of what’s happening. More importantly, they must be capable of doing so quickly and across multiple channels, without falling prey to misinformation or suffering from a lack of visibility.
As observed with COVID-19, navigating a crisis with constantly changing guidance and scenarios requires a focus on clear, actionable, accountable and factual information. While speed is certainly a factor where distribution is concerned, government leaders must also carefully review and validate all information before communicating it to the general public. This is especially true as we approach hurricane season.
With natural weather events and other incidents occurring across the country, citizens must be provided with updates on emergencies as they happen with instructions on how they can remain safe. Achieving this requires a secure, unified, communication system. In deploying such a platform, one must keep the following in mind.
Connect Communities via Unified Communication
Traditionally, crisis communication involves one-way, generic notifications to the masses. A new approach is needed here. A fundamental shift towards the real-time, collaborative exchange of information between organizations.
Yet interoperability without active participation adds little value. In order to prioritize and increase public safety, all city constituencies and agencies must participate. A unified critical event communication platform must therefore be built for ease of use, allowing participants to easily facilitate and expand its deployment both within city borders and without.
Get the Message Out With Multi-Channel Alerting
At the fundamental level, a city or county must be capable of reaching out to the populace across all communication mediums. It is critical that the city keep current its database of resident contact information, while also maintaining a public portal through which residents can sign up for or opt out of alerts. Yet traditional communication channels such as SMS, phone, email, IPAWS Wireless Emergency Alerts, and mobile apps only represent a partial solution to emergency alerting.
To be truly effective, a unified critical event communications platform must fully integrate with public alerting technologies and hardware. The capacity to interface with modalities such as outdoor sirens, digital displays, public address systems, and fire panels is essential, particularly in situations where cell towers may be jammed due to surges or damaged infrastructure. These avenues of communication not only complement IPAWS WEAs, but also act as back-up warning systems, providing an alternative, resilient means of ensuring public safety.
Ensure Large-Scale Interoperability
Finally, a city must be able to systematically facilitate interoperability beyond the public sector. An effective critical event communication system must also allow for the integration of non-government entities, such as event venues, major employers, and community watch groups. By allowing for this seamless exchange of information between government and non-government agencies, decision-makers at all levels will have real-time visibility, giving them the power to make faster, more informed decisions that ultimately keep people safe.
In an emergency, effective communication is the difference between an effective response and an insufficient one. By connecting people, organizations, and devices into one integrated system, public sector agencies can greatly improve public safety. By ensuring no one is left in the dark in a time of crisis, they can meet their duty of care to their populace and move inexorably towards a safer future.
David Wiseman is Vice President of Secure Communications at BlackBerry. BlackBerry AtHoc is a leading critical event communication platform used by state and local agencies globally to communicate and collaborate during critical events and emergencies.