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Critical Event Management: Practical Ways to Collaborate With Everyone Involved

Collaboration is essential in critical event management (CEM), with multiple teams, agencies, and partner organizations working together to deliver the best possible solutions. The ability to collaborate quickly can prevent damage, reduce losses, and save lives.

But when lines of communication break down, when people or organizations can’t — or won’t — collaborate effectively, it has a direct impact on the people and businesses on the ground who need help.

Collaboration is involved in all stages of CEM. It means bringing the right people together when it comes to preparation, so they can build trust and rapport.

It means joining forces when a response is underway to share knowledge, skills, and expertise, helping to avert damage and protect life. And afterward, during recovery, it’s important to share experiences and review outcomes.

This contributes to an invaluable, ongoing process where long-term needs are met, and lessons learned. While property and lives may no longer be at risk, poor collaboration and communication in the recovery phase can delay and interrupt critical restoration, often costing time and money.

The key question is: How are we going to work together?

Get the Right People Involved in CEM

A big reason collaboration needs a laser focus in the planning phase of any critical event response is that there are often so many organizations and agencies involved.

If we’re talking about hurricanes, wildfires, active shooters, bomb threats, or traffic incidents, there are first responders — that includes police, fire, and EMS — plus governmental institutions, local agencies, businesses, and other experts. When it comes to cybercrime, fraud, and threats to operations or IT systems, there are also business leaders, analysts, and security teams. The potential pool of knowledge and know-how is huge, but when there are problems with communication or a reluctance to connect with the right people, that expertise, skill, and experience is diluted.

For example, developing plans to help vulnerable populations will be ineffective or unrealistic if you don’t involve some of the organizations that support them. Likewise, you’ll run into problems if your response to cybercrime hasn’t taken into account possible impacts on your organization’s reputation.

Bringing in the right people to share what they know is vital.

Don’t Let Siloed Practices Hamper CEM Efforts

Effective collaboration can be hampered by teams working in silos. Despite the plethora of available communication tools and devices, organizations involved in developing CEM responses still suffer from practices that stifle their efforts. And they’re often using technology that isn’t interoperable. Myriad systems include radio, in-car computer-aided dispatch, telephone, SMS, mobile phones, and apps, all of which have individual vendors with differing standards. True interoperability has been elusive.

Take a situation where you have reports of a physical threat, such as an active shooter, in a building that houses multiple government agencies, each within its own information silo. Each of those agencies sends a message to their constituency that something is wrong, and then they wait, hoping for a response back. But each one of those constituencies could receive very different messages about where the threat is, what’s currently happening, and what to do if they’re in harm’s way. There is disjointed and siloed intelligence coming in — slowing any response — and any information flowing back is being sent from multiple sources with differing messaging priorities, and instructions.

Understand Common Barriers to Collaboration

What are the most frequent barriers to collaboration in CEM? We asked Grayson Cockett, a former paramedic and current emergency management officer in healthcare and disaster management. 

Why Is Navigating Different Approaches to CEM So Tricky?

There certainly is no standard way in which emergency management agencies are organized and integrated into municipal and provincial governance structures. 

Navigating the differences between organizations and agencies can be one of the biggest challenges. And understanding where authority is held within each organization is one of the first steps in working with them. 

Seeking out who is in charge, or who has the organizational authority to act, is one of the first barriers to remove. It's interesting to see how agency representation is managed in different emergency management organizations – the most successful ones I've seen follow a collaborative model where all the agency representatives are brought together to collaborate and have conversations.

How Do You Find the Right People to Make the Right Decision?

When you’re not the technical expert but need to make a decision on what resource is needed, share your problem with the specialist and let them come up with the solution. Rather than asking for a specific resource, describe your problem. They’ll be much better placed to offer the right kind of help.

I’ve found this to be really effective in a number of cases because it gives authority and some buy-in to the individuals that you're working with to come up with their solution. And it places the expertise in the right place. 

How Do You Understand Bureaucracy and Navigate Jurisdictional Boundaries?

The moment you have multiple jurisdictions, whether they’re federal, provincial/state-level, municipal, or different organizations working together, there's an underlying question of who's paying for this and who's in charge. That needs to be addressed upfront. Or you’ll have a collaborative model where parties ask how they’re going to work together. I've seen some great success with this model during a disaster where you bring a shared problem to the table and, through conversation, piece out what each agency can do.

Why Should You Avoid Communication Wrapped in Jargon?

Communication is cited in every after-action report, as one of the things that needs to be improved. Quite often the perception is that something has gone wrong with communication equipment or that somebody didn't get an email but most of the time it's person-to-person communication that didn't work because the wrong language was used. I know that I have to spend a bit of extra time when I'm working with the municipalities cleaning up my own language. I get so used to all these acronyms and “healthcare-speak.”

I like to say I speak three languages: English, first responder, and healthcare. So, I have to translate everything back into English. It's very easy to alienate individuals if you start using acronyms.

Improving Critical Event Management Outcomes

More effective collaboration means we see improvements in response times, trust, and knowledge-sharing across organizations, and the quality of communication before, during, and after any critical event.

Having a CEM platform like BlackBerry® AtHoc® cuts through silos and works across all organizations and agencies that engage with those affected by a critical event. This is what boosts any investment in collaboration.

It all matters, because collaboration can save vital minutes in an emergency, allowing agencies and organizations to work hand-in-hand, focusing on what they do best. And collaboration in CEM can save money and resources lost in downtime when IT systems or business operations are impacted.

Bottom line: The right expertise — at the right place and time — during any crisis, from weather events to an active shooter situation, can save lives.

Ryan Burrus

About Ryan Burrus

Ryan Burrus is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at BlackBerry.