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. 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 seen originally in 9-1-1 Magazine on December 30, 2015.)
As other areas of business and technology continue evolving, here are six emergency communication trends to watch in 2016 and how they will impact businesses.
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 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, 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.
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 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.
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 businesses, particularly large enterprises, 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 businesses 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 companies 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 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 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.