22/08/2014 Using voice and data to manage incidents

Posted on 22 August
Charlie discusses the use of smartphones during incidents.
 
Use of voice and data to manage incidents
 
This week I have been on the Isle of Coll (off the West Coast of Scotland) where there was much excitement at the building of a new mobile phone mast. It can now be seen from different parts of the island and is due to go live in a couple of weeks. The Isle of Coll is one of the last places in the UK not to have any mobile signal, apart from at the ferry terminal. You can often see cars parked there as people try to pick up their messages and texts. The island functions quite well without one. If you can’t find someone at home you ring round the most likely places they will be (starting at the pub) until you find them. The advantage of the mast is that fishermen, farmers and the doctor will be able to use mobiles for safety and emergency calls, where they couldn’t do in the past. There are of course some who are not in favour of the mast and feel it will ruin the uniqueness of the islands. I was speaking to my mother about this and she was saying that there was the same attitude in 1973 when electricity came to the island!
 
When I first started managing incidents for Anglian Water in 1996 we had a number of incident rooms. There was one central company incident room and then a number of local incident rooms where staff would manage incidents from. As well as having phones, the rooms were equipped with docking stations for each incident role and those managing the incident brought along their laptop and used an incident email address. This system worked well but it didn’t allow any flexibility of location and if managers were involved in managing the incident had to be in a static location.
 
Roll forward 10 years and I was managing the response to 7/7 for Scottish Power, where my role in this incident was to account for staff who might have been in London and therefore at risk of injury. During the day I spent most of the time running around the many floors of their office in Cathcart to speak to staff at the same time as receiving a large number of emails. At that time I had managed to persuade the company to give me a Blackberry, so I was able to answer the calls and email on the move rather than have to return to my desk. This gave me the sudden realisation that we no longer needed to have a fixed incident room and with a smart phone you could have all the facilities you needed without the need for a dedicated incident room.
 
Some thoughts on the use of mobile data and voice during incidents:
 
1. With a smartphone you have all the facilities you need in an incident - phone, email, access to documents, maps, social media and the internet plus details of all your contacts. You can then manage the incident from anywhere. A tablet to accompany the smartphone might help as trying to look at documents on a small screen can be difficult. The question for the business continuity manager is whether they should have dedicated incident tablets or whether staff already have them.
 
2. During the London 7/7 bombings the mobile phone network very quickly became overloaded and people in the area of the incident weren’t able to make calls. There is always the possibility that during an incident that the police ask the telecoms companies to switch of the mobile signal if they feel a terrorist organisation is using the telephone system to direct ongoing attacks. If you are in the vicinity of an incident then you will have to use a fixed phone, email or telephone throughout the internet. All your staff need to be made aware that they may not always be able to use their phone during an incident and they need to look for an alternative.
 
3. The other reason mobiles may not be available is during prolonged power cuts. Some mobile phone towers have emergency generators but many do not and rely on batteries. Most will not last more than 24 hours, after which the mobile signal will be lost. Many internal phone systems also rely on power and if there is no power the systems will not work. In this case it is worth having at least one landline phone in a building which will work during a power cut. As long as you don’t have a wireless phone!