Expert Insights: Our Q&A Northwest Central Dispatch System
It seems like every day there is some new issue or event – like the Ebola virus a few months back or the recent Sydney Hostage situation – that threatens public safety. Because of these events, organizations need to ensure they are able to mitigate employee and public risk while keeping their day-to-day operations running, whether they are a hospital, municipality or business. Organizations can do this by developing preparedness plans that include a crisis communication system.
Recently, Cindy Barbera-Brelle, Executive Director and Sue Cooper, Operations Manager of Northwest Central Dispatch System (NWCDS) sat down with the Everbridge team to host the latest installment of our Expert Insights Webinar Series, Expert Insights: Department Coordination through a Critical Communication System. In this webinar Cindy and Sue discussed how they are able to leverage a system to not just send out notifications, but prepare for an entire event. By doing this, they are able to help keep their staff and citizens informed and safe.
So what got NWCDS to realize they needed to be better prepared for events? Sometimes it’s the small things that do it. NWCDS had an event where they needed to notify citizens of a boil order. Seems simple enough, right? Wrong! Without a system, they had to rely on an outdated approach, requiring them to use manual call trees, have squad cars make announcements on their PA systems and even go door to door. Obviously speed was an issue. But more importantly, reliability and effectiveness were missed as they had no way to verify that all employees and citizens got the message or even the right message. Just imagine if that had been a more severe and large incident. Now, however, they are able to ensure their citizens and staff get the right message at the right time.
The important take away is, any organization – not just a municipal one – can face risk, especially if communication and preparedness isn’t considered.
I encourage anyone who missed the webinar to watch the replay or visit our incident management page. In the mean-time I was fortunate enough to get some extra time with Sue Cooper to further discuss the subject and answer additional questions we had from the audience.
How do you use your system to plan for events in advance?
Sue: We identified early on that there’s situations that departments will face yearly. For example, we have a bike race that comes through the village of Elk Grove. They want to notify the residents in the area of the race, certain things about parking restrictions or what’s going to be happening. We’ve already identified that area and created a polygon highlighting it. We then save it in the system, so year after year, we can just go back to that template and make any changes that we need to it.
To learn more about location-based notification, click here.
That’s great, are there more frequent events you have to plan for where this system benefits you?
Sue: One of our communities uses Everbridge a lot for their garbage day changes. They actually identified the specific areas in the village based on their different garbage days. If it’s going to be delayed due to a holiday or weather, the village can go into the system and pinpoint their geographical location and have send the message using previously created templates.
Sue, Let’s talk severe events. During an emergency where multiple departments are involved, how are you able to communicate amongst one another and make sure everyone got the message?
Sue: With Everbridge Mass Notification we have the ability to send a message to a group as well as to a geographical location. We’ve developed what we call our FYI groups. If we’re sending out a notification in the village of Arlington Heights by geography, we could also send that to a specific group that wants to be notified. For example, the mayor may not be in the coverage area that we’re sending the message to, but he may want to know what message is going out. The police chief, fire chief, all other officials can be notified anytime the system is being used so that when they come into the office the next day, they’re not surprised that it went out.
We also have the ability include or exclude message confirmation. The best part of message confirmation is we know that the message got to whoever we sent it to and that they’re aware of what’s going on.
Given you are sending notifications to various locations and devices, how are you able to get rich contact data from your citizens?
With Everbridge we are able to have citizens register via an opt-in portal. They can enter information such as cell number, home number, work email, personal email and much more. What is more impressive is they can enter their address – such as work and home – this way when we target specific areas, people who provided their addresses will get notified.
You mentioned utilizing the system at the office. As we know, not all events happen while we’re sitting at our desk. Does your departments leverage the system remotely?
Sue: All you need is internet access. You can log onto the system from any device, whether its an Ipad or smartphone. For example one of our SWAT teams who use it – their team leaders can send messages right from the field to their team members from their phones. This allows them to coordinate, share information and get updates on the go.