Over the past year, the country has seen surges in civil unrest, protests, and riots – culminating in the January 6 attacks on the U.S. Capitol. These domestic threats are increasing in intensity and frequency, and emphasize the importance of protecting both Federal and state government employees and facilities.

MeriTalk recently connected with Matt Bradley, vice president of global security solutions at OnSolve, to discuss how the Federal government can improve crisis communications to protect citizens, employees, and stakeholders against potential threats, critical events, and natural disasters. Bradley also details the challenges to managing those factors and critical communications around events such as the COVID-19 vaccine.

MeriTalk: What solutions can the government use to protect staff and facilities as threats such as civil unrest, protests, and riots intensify? Can you share any emerging use cases?

Matt Bradley: There are three capabilities required to manage critical events, such as what happened at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The first capability is knowing something is happening or may happen. This is called risk intelligence. The second capability is knowing what to do about it, or incident management. You can think of it as a checklist or a playbook that outlines your response. The third capability is being able to communicate to your stakeholders – employees, staff, internal groups, or even citizens. We call this critical communications. You have to tell people what they need to do but also what you are doing about the situation.

All Federal and state government agencies should have these three capabilities – collectively known as critical event management (CEM).

A lot of use cases emerged last year with the pandemic where organizations leveraged advanced risk intelligence capabilities, such as those delivered by OnSolve to learn about COVID-19 restrictions in foreign countries and the United States. For example, they used critical communications to tell people not to come into the office or when to take shelter, share details on contact tracing, and do welfare checks. In addition, today more than 400 communities are using our CEM solution to communicate about vaccine distribution.

Organizations also used risk intelligence and critical communications to gather information and notify people about hurricanes, wildfires, tornados, blizzards, the Nashville bombing, and civil unrest related to social justice.

MeriTalk: Notifications about vaccine distribution are particularly timely right now. Can you dive deeper into how that’s happening at the Federal and state levels?

Bradley: At the Federal level, consider the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Guard, who are helping out at mass vaccination centers. When people show up there, do they know where to go? Do they know when their appointment is? How do they get reminded of those things? These agencies could use a critical communications platform.

Critical communications systems could be used the day of the appointment to confirm the person showed up for their time slot. Full vaccine utilization is critical, and a CEM solution could be used to notify people within a one- or two-mile radius of a vaccine location that there are available doses. For example, if a vaccine center is an hour away from closing and there are 20 doses left, the center could send a message to people in the area – and they could confirm via text and receive a vaccine.

MeriTalk: After a natural disaster, how could the government leverage risk intelligence to notify constituents of available resources? What is the Federal connection in these cases?

Bradley: The first step in natural disaster response is to identify the affected area. When an agency like FEMA comes in, they may not know who needs help. If the affected area is identified, they could send a text message to those citizens, opening up a line of communication that is as simple as them replying via text that they need help. FEMA would already know their address since it’s associated with their cell phone number – and could send help. This allows FEMA to triage very quickly and would be a better utilization of FEMA’s resources.

MeriTalk: With the recent escalation of threats, why is it more critical than ever for the Federal government to have a way to communicate with local personnel and leverage risk intelligence?

Bradley: The government has a high level of exposure. There are Federal buildings in every state, Federal courthouses, congressional offices, Veterans Affairs hospitals, and local offices for many Federal agencies. Risk intelligence is about speed, so it should be powered by artificial intelligence (AI), but it also must be relevant. With thousands of locations, risk intelligence can be overwhelming unless you can configure it around your assets.

Once they have information, agencies must communicate with their employees, letting them know what is happening and what they should do about it. Speed, relevance, and usability are the hallmarks of a best-in-class critical event management platform.

MeriTalk: What are some of the challenges that the Federal government faces when it comes to managing potential threats and critical events and leveraging risk intelligence?

Bradley: The Federal government often lacks timely, relevant risk intelligence and a robust critical communications platform to notify affected individuals. Let’s take the violence at the U.S. Capitol as an example. The U.S. Capitol is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Capitol Police, but it sits in Washington, D.C., under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Metropolitan Police. The Vice President was at the U.S. Capitol on the day of the riots, so the Secret Service also had a role. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is responsible for domestic intelligence and threat warnings, and the National Guard was nearby, so the Pentagon had a role.

Who should have known? Who should have been warned or sent a warning? Who should have communicated? The truth is all of them should have risk intelligence. All of them should have the ability to communicate. Our AI-enabled risk intelligence warned of plans to storm the U.S. Capitol days before the event. Our customers knew about the risk, and they were able to communicate with their employees to avoid the area.

MeriTalk: How can OnSolve help close critical communications and risk intelligence gaps?

Bradley: OnSolve has the most advanced critical event management platform on the market with AI-enabled risk intelligence (technology that accelerates the CEM process by filtering through massive data sets to give organizations the information they need, when they need it), integrated incident management, and industry-leading critical communications. OnSolve has the highest level of security and availability that the Federal government demands combined with usability that allows agencies to get up and running quickly. Experience matters.

MeriTalk: What advice would you give agency leaders who are considering a critical event management solution? What should they prioritize? What are common pitfalls to avoid?

Bradley: Don’t wait any longer to implement a critical event management solution. After the year we just experienced, not having a critical event management solution is not an option.

Agencies should prioritize risk intelligence because if they don’t know about something, they can’t respond. Risk intelligence should be powered by AI to provide broad coverage of all events happening in all places – but it should only pull from validated sources, so agencies don’t waste time chasing information from bots or other unreliable sources.

One of the common pitfalls is having risk intelligence, incident management, and critical communications that are not integrated. A critical event management platform integrates those three capabilities so agencies can go from knowing to assessing to responding in minutes. With disconnected systems, agencies lose valuable time transferring the knowledge from risk intelligence to communicating the event to others.

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MeriTalk Staff