On the Run

Businesses take a proactive approach to employee safety, security

The modern workplace is increasingly mobile. The prevalence of secure mobile internet and emphasis on face-to-face collaboration has seen corporations increasingly emphasize remote work for their employees. Running perpendicular to this trend, however, is a sharp increase in the number and frequency of natural and manmade emergencies. Corporations are implementing tools and processes necessary to keep employees safe while they are away from their families.

In a recent research paper released by Everbridge titled “Safety and Security for Business Travelers, Lone and Remote Workers,” the study found that mobile workers are most concerned about communication during an extreme weather, fire, explosion or active shooter situation. Additional statistics from the research underscore how often mobile workers find themselves in harm’s way.

  • Twenty-five percent of employers stated that they have had their mobile workers in the proximity of a workplace violence situation in the past 12 months, while 20 percent have had travelers in the proximity of a terrorist attack within 72 hours of its occurrence.
  • Eighty-four percent of respondents said they had remote workers affected by a location-specific weather event in the last twelve months.

Organizations need to quickly communicate with their employees in case of a location-based critical event. This is why many businesses are moving towards creating “fusion centers” or “command centers” that manage all workplace systems and disruptions from a central location. These centers have dedicated staff that can analyze a number of information streams, such as social media, media and access systems that can be used to identify major events as they happen. But not all emergencies are created equal. Businesses cannot afford to have their mobile workers have alert fatigue so it’s up to the command center’s staff to assess the threat and take definitive action.

It is also important to discuss data privacy as it relates to employee communications. Facebook and other tech companies have been in the news for their aggressive acquisition of personal data. If positioned incorrectly, it is easy to see how a well-intentioned mobile worker plan could be positioned as a corporate “Big Brother” intent on tracking employees’ whereabouts. The good news is that the overwhelming majority of workers in our study said they were ok with sacrificing privacy for safety during business trips. It’s not always easy to walk that fine line between privacy and protection but it’s something that workers will understand if it’s communicated correctly.

Modern mobile worker safety programs hinge on three key capabilities: understanding who potentially could be affected by an event, utilizing a “check-in” system that allows employees to let security teams know if they are ok and, finally, providing information that helps them get out of that situation.

Effective Mobile Worker Programs Rely on Elimination

When a critical event occurs, the first step a security team will do is determine who is not in danger. The beauty of today’s digital world is that everything is connected and many of the devices and technologies we use on a daily basis transmit data instantaneously that can be automatically acquired by commend center staff.

Everything from modest access control and badging systems to more sophisticated biometric systems that require fingerprint and facial recognition track specific employee movements between corporate buildings. Wi-Fi access points act similarly, providing location information linked to laptops, apps and other devices your employees connect to throughout your facilities.

Many enterprises find this to be their first major hurdle when implementing a mobile worker strategy as they use manual processes (call lists and spreadsheets) to manage their workforce. By tapping into these systems, companies can maintain a database of where their employees are and use that data for triggering automated incident communication.

The Importance of Panic Buttons

In the previously mentioned report, 78 percent of respondents said their leadership team would like them to confirm that all their people are safe and accounted for within an hour of a critical event and only 36 percent could do this today.

The mobile phone serves as the centerpiece to mobile worker security strategies so it’s important that employees download have the ability to send an SOS signal. If an employee finds him or herself in an active shooter situation, for example, panic button app capabilities are extremely valuable. Panic buttons have the capability of sending a message to an organization’s security team—automatically transmitting the employee’s location, as well as any shared audio and video with just the push of a button.

Multi-Modal Communications Approaches

If the check-in messages go unanswered, the first step security teams need to do is pinpoint their employees’ exact location(s). Many solutions allow businesses to use interactive, map-based message targeting to specifically define who will receive their communications.

Enterprises can’t rely solely on mobile phones as the sole communication channel for their strategy. It stands to reason that sudden, unexpected events could either see people without their phones or have them be unreachable due to damage to critical infrastructure. Businesses can utilize a number of alternatives including desktop alerts, public websites, Intranets, internal systems and social media.

What’s particularly important for mobile worker programs is the ability to integrate within a specific geographic location seamlessly. Organizations with globally distributed employees, contractors, customers or partners must be able to support local dialects, languages and preferred regional communication methods into their emergency alert systems. Organizations can reduce the difficulty of communicating tasks under pressure and increase recipient comprehension by delivering messages in a local language that is familiar to the recipient.

International travelers will require special strategies from businesses because notification systems must comply with local data privacy and security laws. This isn’t just a regulatory mandate; it’s a safety one as non-compliant systems won’t be able to deliver messages to at-risk workers in different parts of the world. These laws can differ by region and often restrict the transfer of data over country borders. Organizations should understand the regulatory landscape of any country its employees or partners travel within to ensure deliverability isn’t an issue during an emergency.

The speed of business isn’t going to slow down. Corporations should make investments in their workers’ safety— whether they are located within their office or in remote corners of the world. A sound mobile safety strategy could very well be the difference between life or death.

This article originally appeared in the July/August 2018 issue of Security Today.

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