How AlertMedia Delivers Actionable Intelligence: Q&A with Sara Pratley
In this Q&A, Sara Pratley, AlertMedia’s Vice President of Global Intelligence discusses how organizations can protect their people through threat identification and 24/7 situational awareness.
Every day, it seems a new threat or emergency makes headlines. Whether it’s new developments with the pandemic, political demonstrations, or severe weather events, manually monitoring countless data sources to identify critical events, then sending timely communications to those affected is a 24/7/365 job.
In a recent episode of The Employee Safety Podcast, AlertMedia’s Vice President of Global Intelligence joined us to discuss how organizations can improve employee safety and accelerate emergency response through faster threat identification and 24/7 situational awareness. During the conversation, Sara also shared why it’s important for organizations to filter out noise to focus only on the events that directly impact business operations and employee safety.
In her current role, Sara leads the team responsible for monitoring emerging threats and incidents worldwide and providing actionable intelligence to help thousands of AlertMedia customers keep their people safe and informed. Previously, Sara was Vice President of National News for CNN’s domestic newsgathering unit. During her decade in leadership at CNN, Sara oversaw the network’s multi-platform coverage and was known for her outstanding leadership in breaking news. She led the network’s coverage of major events, including the Boston Marathon bombings, Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting, several destructive natural disasters, and more.
You can listen to the full episode below.
Q&A with Sara Pratley, AlertMedia’s VP of Global Intelligence
Every day there are hundreds of critical events happening around the world—more than any one person could possibly track effectively. What are some trends in terms of how you think about delivering intelligence and insights?
There is a high volume of critical incidents happening around the world every day. The volume of information available to businesses is incredible, and being able to sift through that raw information to find meaningful insights takes expertise.
The biggest trend we see is the sheer volume of information and organizations lacking adequate resources and expertise to monitor disparate and unstructured data sources to identify real threats to their people or business. That’s something that we focus heavily on—sifting through the noise and delivering the most important and fact-based information to our clients.
AlertMedia has been delivering on global threat intelligence for several years, but we wanted to double down on that and figure out how to bring our clients better information on emergent threats in real-time to help keep their businesses up and running and their employees safe.
"The flow of information is constant, which is why our team works 24/7/365."Sara Pratley Vice President of Global Intelligence, AlertMedia
As someone who comes from the world of journalism, how do you think about tracking events around the world? How do you begin to approach that challenge?
It’s important to have the right tools and the right sources of information. You also have to recognize that the sources of information are changing rapidly. The intelligence ecosystem is continuously evolving. We work to stay on top of different sources and continuously vet them, in order to understand where critical information is being shared. You also have to understand that there’s a lot of noise, including misinformation, and not all information is important.
I think a risk for many organizations is information overload. It’s easy to get paralyzed by all the information out there and not understanding how to sift through it. The flow of information is constant, which is why our team works 24/7/365.
Is the type of real-time, broad tracking of world events something organizations can do on their own? If an organization tried to set up an internal team to do something similar, what are some of the challenges they might encounter?
Anything is possible, but for many organizations, it’s a huge undertaking to commit the resources required to do that. Threat monitoring is 24/7, 365 days a year. It doesn’t stop. It’s a constant deluge of information, and understanding not only how to sift through it but also how to connect the dots and make sense of it requires specific training and experience. To get it right, you need intel-gathering expertise, an understanding of the [technology] platforms, and access to the right sources of information. All of this is time-consuming and requires a lot of people.
This is why it’s a great advantage to have a partner like AlertMedia that can act as an extension of your business to augment your internal team’s ability to monitor for major global events or localized incidents that could impact your employees, locations, and assets.
In comparing the work your team is doing to that of a more traditional newsroom, like the one you led at CNN, what are some of the biggest differences? Do businesses have distinct needs that require a different approach compared to how you might cover the same event for a mainstream, consumer audience?
At its core, journalism is not dissimilar from gathering threat intelligence—it’s finding information and communicating it to an audience.
One big difference is having a deeper understanding of our customers’ needs. In both the media and mass communication industries, you’re communicating to a broad audience. However, the benefit that we have, compared to a traditional newsroom, is that we’re able to focus on who our customers are—what their organization looks like, where their people are located, and their specific safety concerns. That level of insight gives us the ability to support them in a more focused and impactful way so that we can bring them the right information.
How do you ensure the information you share is accurate given the breadth of sources being monitored? What is your philosophy when it comes to what information gets shared and what doesn’t?
That’s where the human expertise really comes in. There are hundreds of thousands of data sources. Many of them are trustworthy, but it’s coupling that information with our analysts’ expertise that allows us to bring the appropriate information to our customers.
First, we ensure the information we bring to our customers is verified. We have a lot of real-time conversations as a team about situations going on, making sure that we have enough information to bring something to our customers. For us, it’s also about being transparent about where information is coming from, whether it’s an authoritative source or raw information people are sharing on the ground. We believe that if we can get that transparency to our customers, that will help drive their decision-making to take action immediately or stand by for more information from our team.
When most people hear the term “Intelligence” they probably think about a CIA operative or some government agency. How do you define intelligence from a business context?
It’s funny you mentioned the CIA because we actually have expertise from the CIA on our team! When it comes to delivering tailored intelligence for businesses, I think it’s pretty simple—it’s finding the right information and knowing what to do with it.
Our customers use the information and context we provide to both improve situational awareness and make quick and impactful decisions during critical events. Accelerating access to verified information on an active threat and what or who is impacted is one of the most impactful ways we can help them keep their businesses up and running and their employees safe. A lot of companies have challenges with finding accurate information, but once they do, it’s also vital they can communicate that information to the right people internally.
Thinking about the types of events businesses need to monitor, it runs the gamut from severe weather, to public demonstrations, to active shooter incidents, and more. What are some of the ways you categorize and keep track of everything happening at any given time?
There are three overarching categories of events that our team focuses on for our clients.
Planned events are things that we see on the horizon, like political demonstrations. Unplanned events are the type of unpredictable crisis that just happened around the globe, including security incidents, health risks like the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread power outages, and more. The third category is weather events, which have a huge impact on all of our customers globally—that’s one of the reasons why we hired a meteorologist and built that expertise into our team. By providing weather forecasts to our customers, we’re able to help them to understand how to take precautions, whether it’s dealing with their supply chain or offering safety guidance to their employees.
If an organization is on the fence about investing in a tool to proactively identify threats to their people and organization, what guidance would you provide?
Businesses should recognize and be proud of the fact that employees put a lot of trust in their leadership—their manager, HR partner, and company leadership—to keep them safe. This is a powerful thing for companies to understand because employees are looking to them as a source of truth and information when critical events occur.
At AlertMedia, we’re providing verified intelligence by combining trusted data resources and insights from trained experts to cut through the noise. We want our customers to know they have a 24/7 team behind them, bringing them only the best information so they can activate response plans quickly and with confidence.