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In Brussels Terror Attacks, BlackBerry’s AtHoc Helped Officials Control the Crisis

John Linstrom - Community Engagement Manager

In Brussels Terror Attacks, BlackBerry’s AtHoc Helped Officials Control the Crisis

Real-time communication is crucial in the midst of an emergency, where every moment matters for the welfare of the people and organizations involved. When a crisis strikes, public safety and law enforcement officials must be able to rapidly reach multiple audiences with differing messages as a situation progresses, requiring the right people, processes, and technology in place. Perhaps nowhere more clearly could this be seen than in the recent Brussels terror attacks, where real-time communications played an important role in containing the crisis.

When Islamic State suicide bombers carried out deadly terror attacks at Brussels Airport and Maalbeek metro station in Belgium on March 22, BlackBerry’s AtHoc secure crisis communications helped officials from multiple law enforcement, military and medical agencies, using a wide variety of smartphones, computers, tablets and voice lines, keep open lines of communication and notifications to gather and share intelligence – and immediately act upon it – in real time.

Following the bombings, officials immediately took control of the situation in Brussels, grounding all air traffic and halting all public transportation; evacuating the airport, nuclear power plants, nearby hotels and office buildings; and – within 90 minutes of the airport bombing – controlling the area around the apartment building where several attackers lived.

The need for coordinated responses like we saw in Brussels will continue as terror attacks and other crisis situations (including active shooter attacks and natural disasters) escalate. In mid-April, security and technology experts from around the world, including Ly Tran, Founder and Senior Vice President, AtHoc Inc., gathered in London for the World Counter Terror Congress and Security and Counter Terror Expo, sharing knowledge and best practices for stopping terrorism and preventing future attacks.

During his April 19 presentation at the London event, Ly described how AtHoc has worked in practice in Brussels and other recent emergency situations, as well as the following lessons we and our partners have learned about the deployment and use of emergency mass notification systems .

  1. Interoperability is Essential: The biggest key to successful emergency communications is interoperability: giving the right people the right information in a secured fashion wherever they are, on whatever device they are using. Information must be available across technologies, whether the person is sitting at a computer, on the go with any type of smartphone, standing in a manufacturing plant or virtually anywhere else.
    For example, during the Washington Navy Yard shooting that killed 12 people in September 2013, the AtHoc platform kept officials and employees informed about what was happening and how to stay safe. Navy Lieutenant Commander Rodeece Dean said, “we were getting reports [about the shootings] on the emergency alert system [and] on our government cell phones, on the computer.” General Martin Dempsey, then Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, said what “actually contributed to a less horrific outcome were Alert Notifications.”
  2. Open Lines of Communication with Key Third Parties: Organizations need to pull in all the resources they can in to deal with an emergency situation. By creating a network of affiliates, agencies can share critical alerts securely with other organizations, customers, suppliers, nearby businesses, etc. The Department of Veterans Affairs recently signed a $20 million contract with AtHoc to enable critical communication sharing across federal, state and local health agencies and beyond.
  3. You Need to See What They See: People on the scene are a vital source of information for officials about what’s happening in real time. The AtHoc mobile app turns every smartphone into a secure reporting tool for situational awareness. Users can submit geo-tagged images and videos into the app, enabling officials to escalate their response based on first-person reporting, whether the officials are in the same city or thousands of miles away on another continent.
  4. Make Sure to Check Everyone’s Safety: In an emergency, it’s important – but difficult – to keep track of your workers’ safety and identify people who are in danger, as well as people who can pitch in with extra help. Organizations including Kaiser Permanente are using AtHoc to check on workers’ safety, as well as whether they’re available to return to work sooner to cover for people who can’t.
    Mitigating terror threat is a critical priority for civil, military and private sector stakeholders alike. The Security & Counter Terror Expo Conference was an excellent way to bring together security professionals from around the world who have an increasingly important role to play as complex threats continue to evolve.
    During any crisis, it is important for everyone to play a part in keeping the public alert, not alarmed. This starts by being prepared for and understanding how to respond in the event of an emergency. This conference was a way to demonstrate useful lessons, tactics and technologies, such as AtHoc’s Networked Crisis Communications platform, that security professionals can implement now to be better prepared during times of crisis.
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