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What is CEM? Incident Management: From Emergency Mass Notification Systems to Machine Learning

Emergency Mass Notification Systems | Critical Event Management

Updated 05.05.2023

Enterprises like yours face an enormous spectrum of threats. Some are human-caused, like suspicious packages, cyberattacks, mass shootings and industrial accidents — while others are naturally occurring events like hurricanes, tornadoes, and earthquakes. No matter their origin, they all create significant events that require critical event management (CEM) tools. This includes a way to mass notify large numbers of people — an emergency mass notification system — and other capabilities to encourage collaboration, keep people safe, promote business resilience and meet regulatory mandates.

What Is CEM?

Critical event management helps organizations and agencies respond to urgent situations. Critical events cause chaos and confusion. As Mike Tyson famously said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” Let’s face it, the man had a point. While it goes by many names, critical event management is more than a “crisis communications plan.”  It is a top-to-bottom methodical, managed and systemic response to mitigate an ongoing critical event. That event could range from fires and tornadoes to school shootings or a network outage.

Why Does CEM Matter?

Compare the police responses to school shootings in Uvalde, TX vs Nashville, TN. Critical event management matters.

When done well, there is a clear delineation of roles, including leadership. Everyone understands their unique part in the response and who should be collaborating with specific teams to achieve the desired outcome. On its best days, good CEM execution might save lives, not to mention a business.  

Organizations have a safety obligation and duty of care to their employees, and meeting those needs requires effective planning and response. Employees need to know about unsafe situations, security guidelines, and safety measures. Enterprises must deliver consistent messaging and unified communications via multiple channels and devices, especially if the main channels go dark.

What Are Emergency Mass Notification Systems?

An emergency mass notification system is a crucial first step, and what most people equate with disaster response. These go by different names. Common ones include "mass notify," CEM alert, emergency response notification, mass text alerts — you get the idea. The thing to keep in mind here is emergency mass notification systems are only the first step in a critical event management playbook.

Tornado Warnings, Amber Alerts – even missile warnings are all types of emergency notifications. Typically, incident response capabilities commence with a mass notify and grow to include incident management with collaboration at all levels in the organization — often with partners. They are also fully realized with the addition of automation and machine learning.

The Force Is With You

In Ukraine, air raid sirens are coupled with instructions by Mark Hamill to seek shelter underground. While not every emergency mass notification system includes voiced warnings by Luke Skywalker himself, they are all critically important to their respective localities.

But mass notifications are only a first step. Maturing enterprises must evolve to take on additional responsibilities, and this will require advanced capabilities.

A Good Start

As organizations advance, a CEM platform often becomes necessary to deliver effective incident response and recovery goals. Emergency planning, emergency notification systems, incident response, recovery processes and ongoing improvement provide a natural progression for all types of businesses as they strive to improve their emergency response.

CEM platforms provide enterprise leaders and team members with the tools and information they need now to respond to — and recover from — critical events in the future.

What Does Good CEM Look Like?

Level 1: Emergency Mass Notification Systems

As we’ve covered, this is the crucial first step — but only a first step. Because communication is paramount, enterprises typically start with an emergency mass notification system or, in its absence, a consumer chat tool.

An EMNS provides a way to mass notify / alert people on any device at any time, and offers features enterprises need, such as integration with an enterprise directory, response tracking for accountability, and auditability for compliance.

At this early level of incident response maturity, an enterprise may implement a mass notification system even before incident response plans are in place. Manual processes may require a human operator using a call tree spreadsheet to send messages through the EMNS to employees and other affected stakeholders.

Level 2: Incident Management

Soon, however, incident management needs to evolve beyond a mass notify. Enterprises begin to find daily value in the routine use of emergency notification systems, beyond just “emergencies,” and business leaders start to recognize the importance of gathering accurate information quickly and managing information flow during a critical event.

As their incident management program matures, enterprises must upgrade from a rapid communication tool to more sophisticated planning tools incorporating critical event planning checklists, playbooks with detailed action plans, and shared documents. These additional capabilities centralize knowledge, providing quick reference materials to reduce response time when it really counts.

Level 3: Real-Time Collaboration

For many organizations, real-time enterprise collaboration and cross-organizational communication have become increasingly important.

For instance, if a company’s software starts getting flagged as potentially unsafe, you can reasonably expect an influx of customer service calls. That is why it’s imperative that you can collaborate across business functions in real time. In this software example, looping in customer care to all crisis responses is helpful, since they are on the "front lines” and will likely hear about it first.

Group chat and voice calls enable a shared experience through a CEM tool. Collaborating with a local incident response team and mutual aid agreements with community partners and government agencies also requires this type of collaboration.

Level 4: Automation and Machine Learning

The highest level of incident response maturity is automation. The advantages of automation become evident when manually responding to every stakeholder becomes impossible. Enterprises add automation to the mix when they reach critical mass and public expectations for timely and informative responses increase.

Automation and machine learning complete the incident response lifecycle with end-to-end integration and automated workflows, significantly speeding information delivery. Automation collects data from building sensors, badging systems, alarms, and third-party information feeds.

At this point, integration with enterprise collaboration and ticketing systems will automatically send alerts and information to the people who need to act on it. Machine learning enables technology to identify anomalous data and act autonomously, doing much of the work for you.

In these ways, CEM technology provides a unified platform to effectively manage all types of critical events — from minor incidents to full-scale crises.

What Is CEM as It Relates to BlackBerry?

Used and trusted by 75 percent of U.S. federal government employees, BlackBerry® AtHoc® unifies critical communications for effective multi-agency coordination across public and private sectors.

Enterprises of all sizes choose BlackBerry AtHoc critical event management solutions for a variety of reasons, including:

Industry-First Integration of Critical Event Management with Cybersecurity

BlackBerry is the only vendor to integrate the managed detection and response (MDR) protection of CylanceGUARD® with secure Critical Event Management powered by BlackBerry AtHoc.

Imagine your entire network and phone system goes down. You need to mass notify every employee on next do you do this?

AtHoc customers selecting a CylanceGUARD subscription will benefit from secure, multi-channel internal and stakeholder communications for incident response actions. This provides them with the ability to alert, communicate and collaborate from within the CylanceGUARD platform, even when the usual communications infrastructure is not available.

Trusted security and experience 

In highly regulated environments like governments or the financial sector, BlackBerry® CEM solutions are certified and recognized as among the industry’s most secure while meeting compliance requirements. A managed service offering extends these resources, skills, and expertise to organizations of all sizes, resources, and maturity levels.

Unified platform for large enterprises

Designed for complex environments, our CEM solutions integrate with enterprise directories, adapt to unique organizational structures, and provide role-based permissions.

Inter-organization communication

The use of a private, trusted crisis communication network and the ability to invite others to participate enables BlackBerry customers to collaborate from far-flung locations.

Flexible deployment and service models 

BlackBerry AtHoc is available as an on-premises, hosted SaaS, or hybrid solution and is available as a fully managed service.

IoT interoperability 

Triggered from a desktop, a mobile device, or automatically via APIs fed by sensors and data feeds, our CEM solutions integrate with Internet of Things (IoT) and enterprise systems to share information with endpoints as diverse as ticketing, enterprise collaboration, and mass communication systems, as well as personal devices.

High availability 

Our systems support secure delivery with geo-redundancy, and highly available cloud infrastructure.

How to Get Started with Critical Event Management

When you engage BlackBerry for a CEM solution, we plan and design the system for your operational requirements. We provision, populate, and test the system with you. BlackBerry trains your team to ensure they are fully qualified and equipped to operate the system.

We exercise and drill your operators on the use of the system and enable them to use it effectively. And when you are ready, we seamlessly transition you to our world-class support team to ensure your ongoing success. Contact us to get started.

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Ramon Pinero

About Ramon Pinero

Ramon Pinero is Vice President, Product and Services, BlackBerry AtHoc.