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Safety, Security and Peace of Mind: How This International School Is Dealing with Myanmar's Coup

With five years in the U.S. military and 27 years with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, John Whalen understands better than most how quickly an unstable situation can deteriorate. He’s brought that knowledge and expertise with him to his position as the Director of Health, Safety and Security at The International School Yangon (ISY). 

Given circumstances in Myanmar, Whalen amplified his ongoing search for a critical event management solution. He knew that to keep its people safe, ISY needed a management solution that went beyond phone trees, email, and instant messaging. Most of all, he wanted to give something back to the institution that had done so much for his family.

BlackBerry® Alert proved to be that solution.

Facing Down a Volatile Situation

Since January, the people of Myanmar have been reeling from both the coronavirus pandemic and a military coup. In response to the results of a November federal election, a military junta seized control of the country formerly known as Burma, which has resulted in over 1000 dead and thousands more arrested. The impact on the country’s residents has been far-reaching, and particularly intense for families in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city (formerly the British Colonial capital of Rangoon).

Here, conflict between the military and dissidents is still ongoing. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) are regularly detonated, most often targeted at government facilities. Amidst this volatility, there’s a high chance of someone being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

To make matters worse, communications in Yangon are hampered by Internet outages lasting hours at a time, and mobile data connectivity is unreliable, at best.

Safeguarding an Island of Stability

ISY and the surrounding area, Whalen notes, has been incredibly fortunate as far as the coup is concerned. The region of Yangon where ISY is situated is relatively affluent, and near the U.S. embassy. As a result, it’s been largely spared from demonstrations and conflict.

“We’re obviously still concerned about the safety of our staff and teachers,” says Whalen, “Especially our local staff; they live all over the city, some of them in areas that are very dangerous at the moment. Even before the coup, these areas were locked down because of COVID.”

Although ISY has evacuated its expatriate staff – and while its local faculty is now working remotely – Whalen still wanted to ensure there was some recourse should the situation take a turn for the worse.

Giving the Gift of Safety

Maintaining lines of contact is one of the most crucial aspects of crisis management. Initially, Whalen explored the possibility of a mesh network that would allow the school to stay online even during outages. High cost aside, the limitations on air travel in the region – first due to COVID, then as a result of the coup – made acquiring the necessary equipment impossible.

ISY needed a means of keeping its people safe – but what could it do?

Whalen was out to lunch with a friend from the U.S. embassy when he found the answer. While the two were dining, his friend received a notification from BlackBerry Alert. Whalen immediately recognized its potential: With one platform, he could eliminate phone trees and give ISY multiple tools to help protect its people.

After a few conversations with BlackBerry and a brief product demonstration, Whalen used his security company to engage with one of BlackBerry’s third-party vendors in Singapore. Once he’d purchased the licenses, he then gifted the first year’s subscription to ISY.

BlackBerry Alert was fully deployed in a little over a week.

“Purchasing BlackBerry Alert for ISY was about more than thanking the school for its work,” Whalen explains. “It was also a good way to demonstrate the importance of this type of system, while sidestepping some of the typical business concerns that come with deploying new software. Those conversations almost always focus on ROI, but you can’t really put a price on something like BlackBerry Alert – it’s about keeping people safe.”

To learn more about how International School of Yangon is leveraging BlackBerry Alert, read the full case study.

Ramon Pinero

About Ramon Pinero

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