Improving communications for incident response and operations - Critical Event Management - BlackBerry AtHoc

Published 04/11/2022
Author image
When an emergency happens, the main challenge is getting the right information to the right people at the right time. The urgency, security, ease, and efficiency required for efficient incident management are not necessarily provided by newer technologies or those created for general corporate objectives. This is where Critical Event Management ( BlackBerry AtHoc) comes in play. Agencies such as Durham Regional Police Service, Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, Contra Costa County use this tool as a single integrated system for managing incident communication and response capabilities. CEM ensures several benefits to an agency and public it serves.
Article cover

When an emergency happens, people may share it first on social media, even before they call 911. The instant availability of videos, photos and messages increases public awareness of an emerging incident. Yet in too many cases, agencies must scramble to rapidly obtain and share the information necessary to take the right actions and deploy the correct resources for an effective response. Public safety and emergency management agencies often operate with a cobbled-together set of technologies to communicate, both during an incident and for routine operations. Frequencies on older technologies such as radios can quickly become congested. These tools also don’t always support cross-agency communication.

Recently adopted online collaboration platforms and messaging apps can improve communications in some ways. However, collaboration platforms often have the burden of an on-premises deployment and may require users to install an app on their personal devices. Mobile calls and messaging apps may not have adequate security and typically are not integrated with an agency’s command-and-control system for management and record-keeping. Simply put, older technologies or those designed for general business purposes cannot always deliver the urgency, security, ease and efficiency needed for effective incident management. Public safety and emergency management agencies also need tools to increase efficiency in their daily operations.

How agencies use critical event management

Three agencies offer a broad view of how a critical event management (CEM) system can improve public safety and emergency response.

Durham Regional Police Service in Ontario, Canada, uses a CEM solution to manage personnel mobilization in 19 specialty units, including criminal investigations, K-9, marine, mobile command, search and rescue, and traffic management. For an incident callout, dispatchers use the system to easily send an alert to and receive responses from lists of primary and secondary personnel. The 911 operators can also use the system to collect situation and safety information from field staff, then share it as needed across multiple departments. Dispatchers appreciate the simpler way to handle callouts during hectic incidents. And responders appreciate the more efficient processes for receiving and responding to a callout message.

Mississippi Emergency Management Agency The need to deliver emergency alerts through more channels and to more devices prompted the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency to seek a new mass notification system. Of particular concern was the agency’s ability to transmit alerts quickly and reliably for hurricanes, tornadoes, hazardous material spills or a nuclear facility crisis. By replacing a traditional system with a CEM solution, the agency now has a redundant and reliable platform for crisis communication. The small on-duty team can use message templates to create and send alerts quickly. The agency can also integrate information feeds produced by other agencies and staff working in the field to issue alerts using a mobile app.

Contra Costa County In California, Contra Costa County is home to many industrial and chemical facilities, making hazardous material incidents a core priority for emergency response. The county’s Office of Emergency Services now uses a CEM system to support response activities and communications. The county uses the system to manage personnel callouts across departments and jurisdictions. It is now faster for emergency managers to activate specialty responders, including search and rescue, reserve police and SWAT units. And the system makes it easier to give these personnel consistent information. Contra Costa County also uses the CEM system to send public alerts over all standard channels. Residents can sign up to receive relevant alerts from the system via phone call, text message or email.

Faced with staffing challenges, agencies also need communication and management tools that will help employees work with greater efficiency. THE SOLUTION: A comprehensive system for critical event management

A solution designed specifically for critical event management (CEM) provides a single, integrated system for managing incident communication and response capabilities. A comprehensive CEM system helps agencies improve processes and communications across a range of response functions, including incident coordination, commander awareness, mass notifications, information uploads from field personnel and records management.

Everything in one place. When deployed as a single, central system, a CEM solution helps agencies improve and accelerate response efforts, make better use of personnel and resources, streamline operations, and avoid information redundancy. Users work more efficiently when they create, access and update incident response plans — along with the associated documents, data, images and video — in one central system. A central CEM system also supports secure integration with workflows from a government’s general collaboration and business applications to streamline processes.

Secure information access and sharing. Emergency incidents often involve sensitive personal, tactical and safety information, making strong cybersecurity essential. Field and command staff can use the CEM system to securely share geo-tagged documents and media files for real-time situational awareness and decision-making. Data protections are enhanced through CEM system compliance with government security standards such as National Institute of Standards & Technology (NIST) SP800 and hosting on a FedRAMP-certified cloud platform. All text, voice and video communications with user devices are encrypted and CEM system data is stored only in the cloud, which helps protect against ransomware. For document sharing with other agencies, protection features include encryption, digital rights management, the ability to control and revoke file access, and secure collaboration between internal and external contacts.

Automated personnel updates. Real-time awareness of personnel location and status in the field is vital for dispatchers and command staff. The CEM system helps maintain this awareness through preset safety protocols and automated updates sent by employee devices.

Multichannel mass notifications. Message templates in the CEM system make it simpler and faster to create and automate public alerts. The system then delivers these alerts through multiple channels, including the FEMA Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS). To maximize community coverage, the CEM system also supports social media and opt-in email, phone calls and text messages for mobile devices. To reach employees within a facility, the CEM system can send alerts to loudspeakers, digital displays and entry-control points.

Incident documentation. Activity logs and reports are stored in the CEM system to support post-incident debriefs and identify opportunities for future improvements.

CEM BENEFITS FOR RESPONSE AND OPERATIONS - A new system for critical event management can bring several benefits to an agency and the public it serves.

Better planning and plan activation. Whether to support a scheduled event or respond to a natural disaster, easy-to-access incident plans enable effective actions, decision-making, partner coordination and use of resources. Incident commanders, agency leaders and individual responders can receive relevant plan updates as the incident evolves. They can also contribute information that improves the real-time response and planning for similar incidents in the future.

Improved ability to manage response costs. Increasing efficiencies for incident response can help agencies manage associated costs. For example, an optimized and automated process for activating and releasing staff can better match personnel to the need, for the time they are needed. The initial callout can be made to specific personnel instead of a broadcast call to everyone. During an extended incident, an integrated CEM system makes it easier to plan for resource needs in future work shifts. Agencies may also realize cost savings when decommissioning older systems, especially those that require on-premises servers and infrastructure.

Rapid, targeted personnel mobilization. Instead of using phone trees to call in needed personnel, a CEM system can automate activation contacts and target them to criteria such as employee location, training, equipment skills and current availability. The system also tracks employee responses for a real-time view of all personnel resources.

Easier coordination with partners. A central CEM system provides a single source for secure information sharing and collaboration among agency teams and with other government and community organizations. Users will not need to switch among multiple applications to receive and share information or participate in discussions.

Improved public and employee alerts. The public will receive authoritative, consistent and timely information when alerts and updates are sent from a single CEM system. Real-time tracking of alert responses helps agencies verify that messages are reaching employees, partner organizations and the public.

New efficiencies in routine operations. CEM systems support the day-to-day challenges of calling staff for duty, managing overtime, delivering briefings to employees, and sending alerts based on an employee’s current location. Automated communications from a CEM system can be especially efficient when staff may be working in the field, the office or from home.


The effort to implement a new CEM system can be made easier by applying three strategies. The first strategy is to carefully consider the system’s deployment model. Although an agency may have the goal of using a fully cloud-based solution, that deployment may not be feasible. Reasons for choosing an on-premises or hybrid model include requirements for where data is stored or a need for extensive integration with agency systems that remain on-premises. After the CEM solution and deployment model are chosen and ready for use, begin with a pilot project. Review the various user types and functions involved with incident management to choose which will be best suited for this initial system implementation. For example, a team of specialist personnel who are subject to callout for incident response can provide a useful perspective on the system’s fit with agency processes. Include command staff and agency leaders in the pilot project to help them see how a central CEM system will change agency capabilities, practices and service to the community. Based on lessons learned from the pilot project, plan a phased rollout to more teams or agency functions. In each phase, identify any needed policy changes or operational issues to resolve before the system rollout to all users.


 In times when community members need help, they expect emergency and public safety agencies to make full use of modern technologies. Today, those agencies realize how modern technologies can improve communications and management for both incident response and routine operations. By adopting a central, secure solution for critical event management, an agency can deliver the level of services expected by the public in a time of crisis. And the agency can use the CEM system to make better use of personnel, equipment, and support resources every day

Get the best content from Converge direct to your inbox every month.
Author image

About The Author

BlackBerry® AtHoc® helps government agencies prepare for, respond to and recover from critical events and emergencies. In a crisis, BlackBerry AtHoc gets clear and timely information to your team and the public at large—so you can keep everyone safe.

More From The Author

Related Story