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How to Ease Employees’ ‘Big Brother’ Fears About Location Tracking for Crisis Communications

One of the more common misconceptions about personnel accountability is that it is a management tool designed to track employees and gather evidence to downgrade performance ratings. It is true that data-driven tools for identification, location, and response for staff have the potential to be a bit of a Big Brother element. That said, it would be very foolish for an organization to misuse emergency communications solutions in this matter. Here’s where that disconnect can happen – and what should be done to prevent it.

Looking through a keyholeOriginally published on the AtHoc blog.

Management and supervisors have an immediate need to know where staff and equipment are located at the onset of a crisis. This information is essential to gauge what resources are available to respond to the emergency, and how best to allocate those assets.

As events evolve, tasks must be assigned and completed. Supervisors can then redeploy staff and equipment as needed until the situation has been successfully resolved. After the crisis is over, the data behind these locations and tasks becomes the core for identifying areas for upgrading emergency preparedness planning, team performance, and individual capabilities.

Staff, however, are quite correct to be concerned with the civil liberties issues surrounding this type of automated accountability. For example, mandatory use of GPS or NFC identifiers gives supervisors and management real-time information on where individuals might be located – whether that information is relevant to the current situation or not, and whether staff is on active duty or not.

Data generated during the crisis can be taken out of context or used inappropriately to deny emergency compensation rates or overtime hours. In a worst-case scenario, employees can be punished for varying from expected assignments, even if an individual had a strong reason for taking that action at that time.

Search on the map.The long-term consequences can be severe if these concerns are not addressed directly as part of the initial deployment of a personnel accountability solution. Staff may refuse to use the system, or sabotage the data being provided, to protect their privacy. Employees may quit. Protracted contract negotiations, especially with unionized workforces, may leave the organization vulnerable when an emergency occurs. Lawsuits can put the company or agency at risk of negative publicity and financial loss.

Ironically, these issues require old-fashioned conversation rather than technology to reach a successful resolution. These potential areas of contention need to become part of the emergency preparedness planning process itself, so that the entirety of the organization is focused on containing the crisis when an emergency strikes.

Here’s how it might work. One difficulty might be compensation. If off-site/off-duty staff are required to have their locations monitored, management and staff need to define in advance if overtime begins when the accountability system first communicates successfully with an individual, or when that person reports for duty.

Another example might come from automated location tracking for staff and equipment. Mobile devices and on-board GPS units broadcast location data almost constantly. That information might be off-limits under some circumstances, but accessible to supervisors and management under defined emergency conditions.

Likewise, staff might be receptive to using automated location and identification technology if they have input into which situations and tasks using these tools make their tasks easier to execute, and which applications are unwarranted. Emergency assignments, where the time required to call in or respond to verbal orders puts people and property at risk, can be automated. Other situations return control to the individual.

The point here is that emergency communications and personnel accountability are not Big Brother. At a very fundamental level, human beings at all levels of the organization need to be brought into the emergency preparedness planning process, and their input included as an essential part of the workflow that defines how flesh-and-blood assets must respond in the field.

Solutions such as those offered by AtHoc are designed to take this human element into account. We consider it critical to customer success.

Do you have a solid plan to manage a crisis? Watch AtHoc’s on-demand webcast on Crisis Communication: Is Your Community Ready? to learn more about improving situational awareness, command and control, communications and information sharing.

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