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Extreme Weather Events and Increasing Resilience

Critical event management during weather extremes is crucial. It can save time — and lives.

We recently discussed this topic with meteorologist and former TV weather anchor Bruce Sussman, now senior manager of editorial at BlackBerry. 

This is part of our 2023 Trends in CEM blog series and this time we look at how organizations are coping with increasing weather volatility, and explore mitigation strategies.  

Our prediction is that many companies and agencies will be looking for ways to better prepare for extreme weather events, with automation capabilities and two-way communications at the top of wish lists for CEM (critical event management) software.

Is Your CEM Ready for Weather Extremes?

Tornadoes, extreme heatwaves, hurricanes, wildfires, floods, and droughts seem to take turns making headlines, and impacting people, property, and organizations in their path. “There is an ongoing risk — and great uncertainty — when it comes to upcoming weather events,” Sussman says, “with huge financial implications for communities and organizations.”

There’s no denying weather disasters are getting more expensive. The United States has already seen a record number of tornadoes so far this year, and the recent devastation in Mississippi alone is estimated to result in insurance losses of around $100 million. Furthermore, research shows a rising number of billion-dollar disasters, events which used to be quite rare.

With the 2023 hurricane season forecasts indicating a higher-than-ever level of uncertainty, preparedness is the watchword for those involved with CEM.

Readiness: Fortifying the Right People with the Right Information

“When we’re looking at preparedness, empowering people with information can make a significant difference, especially in that critical moment when the weather disaster hits,” Sussman tells me. “If we look at people in ‘Tornado Alley’ in the U.S., for example, they certainly understand the threats. They will have drills on what to do around tornadoes and how to react to public safety alerts, much like there are earthquake drills in California. But when the alerts go off — when it comes to that moment when the tornado or the earthquake hits — you may not be thinking clearly.”

Sussman compares this to the military, or elite sports, where individuals and teams train constantly so their reactions in high-pressure situations become second nature. “Your once-a-year drill may not cut it when you're panicking,” he says.

Sussman believes that better intelligence and CEM technology can make a real difference, because mobilizing communities, workforces, and agencies with “the right information at the right time” is vital. 

“Sending very specific best practices through messages that arrive instantly on your phone in that panicky moment — after a public safety alert has gone out — could help save lives. There’s power in timely messaging that you can glance at and act on, almost without thinking.”

For those working in critical event management, the key is having secure communication solutions and automated CEM tools that are always ready to go. You need tools that help your team easily trigger alerts, and create workflows and incident scenarios that reduce both workload and human error during a crisis.

Reaction: Improving Communication and Response Times

In previous blogs we’ve talked about how important it is to be able to act fast when a disaster strikes. According to the Business Continuity Institute, 75% of organizations can’t activate their plans within the “golden five minutes.”

When activating mass emergency notifications and launching an emergency response, the need for speed is imperative. “The greater the advance warning, the more lives that can be saved,” Sussman emphasizes. “People are often out and about — and away from places of safety — and need to be alerted to seek shelter inside. In other cases, like a wildfire or flood, telling people to leave and get out to safety is what saves lives when evacuations are needed. The ability to mass notify is critical in both of these situations.”

If we look at what’s slowing response times, siloed communications are a big factor.

“An example would be a commander at a wildfire who has to brief one department, then another, and then a partner agency, because everybody's on different communication systems: It’s just valuable time lost.” (Take a look at our blog on What Wildfire Response Teaches Us About Crisis Communications.)

“When agencies are running their own systems, you lose that omni-channel presence and having command and control in a crisis.” That’s when the right critical event management software really comes into its own.

The solution is to be able to communicate across multiple agencies — regardless of the networks or devices they use — and to have two-way communications, where recipients can confirm they’ve received a message with a single click, so you know where they are, if they’re safe, and whether they’re acting on the latest information. “That’s a really powerful response tool,” confirms Sussman, “because the chaos can be tremendous after something like a tornado comes through.”

Resilience: Anticipating the Weather

With continued uncertainty, and likely greater volatility, business continuity managers and disaster recovery experts must prepare for extreme weather events in the years ahead. That preparation means strengthening infrastructure, developing contingency plans, and leveraging automation capabilities. It also means investing in intelligent CEM systems, like BlackBerry® AtHoc®, that go beyond mass emergency notifications with the capability to provide effective, unified, two-way communications.

“Yes, the weather is changing, and the number of billion-dollar disasters is increasing,” Sussman acknowledges. “But today, we have better tools and better intelligence than we've ever had — and a chance to get out in front of that.”

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Ryan Burrus

About Ryan Burrus

Ryan Burrus is a Senior Product Marketing Manager at BlackBerry.