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Emergency Management Aug 04, 2022

How Bad Intelligence Can Hurt Your Safety Efforts

Information is the foundation of effective safety procedures but only if it’s reliable. In this article, we’ll show you how to avoid bad intelligence and improve your emergency responses.

The Business Case for Human-Vetted Intelligence
Discover a blueprint for sourcing actionable threat intelligence you can trust.

On December 6, 1941, a U.S. Army intelligence attaché in Indonesia sent a message to his superiors in Washington. The message was a warning: Dutch intelligence had cracked an Imperial Japanese code which revealed a plan to declare war on the United States. As a matter of national security, this message was then sent up the chain of command to the president.

Immediately after doing so, the chief of staff of the army alerted the Hawaiian and Philippine force commanders of a potential impending attack. However, due to the sensitive nature of the message, it had to be sent via secure wire and required multiple translators to relay the contents, among other practical and security restrictions. Even worse, it was the weekend, so many people who could have helped were not working and those available did not have sufficient permission to act.

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The message reached the office of the commanding general in Hawaii at 2:58 pm on December 7, but the Japanese aerial raid on Pearl Harbor had ended hours before. More than 2,000 servicemen lost their lives that day, and thousands more were injured. And 18 ships and 188 planes were lost, largely because the right information didn’t get to the right people at the right time.

Throughout history, numerous examples of bad or delayed intelligence have created unforeseen consequences. It’s tempting to think of these past events as issues that have since been solved by modern technological advancements; however, businesses today still face the growing issue of misinformation that many experts believe requires a new approach to intelligence monitoring and gathering.

In this article, we’ll cover the basics of threat intelligence, why gathering accurate information is critical for businesses, and best practices and common mistakes to avoid. With this foundation, you’ll be able to protect your business from the dangers of intelligence failures and keep your employees and operations safe.

What Is Threat Intelligence?

Threat intelligence refers to information organizations can use to identify and assess risks with the potential to impact their people or operations. This information can then be applied to situational intelligence to help mitigate risk and avert disruptions.

In a business setting, intelligence work can include everything from monitoring a developing hurricane to alerting impacted groups about disruptions to critical systems or processes.

The broader intelligence community leverages a wide range of open source intelligence (OSINT) data feeds to capture this information, but business leaders generally prefer information derived from local authorities or a reputable source (e.g., an intelligence agency, the National Weather Service, etc.). These authoritative sources share their information through a wide range of platforms: Twitter, RSS feeds, press releases, and the local news, which can then be incorporated into internal threat monitoring tools.

Information spaces like Twitter and RSS feeds can be great for threat intelligence, but there is always the potential that they can lead to information overload. For example, you might follow a local weather organization’s RSS feed to know when your business will have to deal with inclement weather. If this weather organization covers multiple states, there’s a good chance that many of their alerts are not relevant to your business or your people.

You want to ensure you can find the relevant information for your business without becoming overwhelmed by unnecessary information. Some businesses use a threat intelligence system to filter through and verify their information. Some of these systems are sophisticated enough that they allow you to speak directly with trained threat analysts to gather precise details and context.

Measuring your risk intelligence with RQ

Your organization’s comprehensive ability to anticipate, plan for, and respond to a wide array of risks is known as your risk intelligence level. It’s not a measure of your preparedness for any single threat but rather your organization’s overall ability.

Specifically, six components make up your risk intelligence :

  • Risk awareness: Recognizing the wide array of risk types
  • Risk understanding: Displaying a detailed knowledge of a given threat
  • Risk evaluation: Identifying the severity of a given threat
  • Risk projection: Forecasting how a given threat will likely develop
  • Risk assessment: Calculating the people and assets impacted by a given threat
  • Risk response: Knowing how to effectively respond to a given threat

Your risk intelligence can be measured by calculating your RQ (risk quotient), which gives a simplified and trackable number value to your business’ level of preparedness.

If you have good risk intelligence (i.e., your business has a high RQ), you have a firm grasp on relevant risk data and are prepared for all possible threats to your business—be it a hurricane, winter storm, cybersecurity attack, or active shooter event. Whereas if you have a low RQ, you’re likely missing some key factors that would impact your decision-making, putting both your bottom line and employees’ health and safety at risk.

How to measure your RQ

Calculating your RQ is as simple as ranking your business from 1–10. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Go through all six components of risk intelligence (explained below)
  • Rank your business on a scale of 1–10 for each (we’ve suggested ways to determine your rank)
  • Add up the scores, and divide your total by 60 to calculate your RQ

Use the final RQ as a general measure of your risk intelligence—and your individual scores to determine where you have room for improvement.

Your Blueprint for Sourcing Trustworthy, Actionable Threat Intelligence Is Here

Why Is Good Intel Important?

You can have the best emergency procedures in place—a team trained in crisis response and planning and the best communication system possible. But if nobody knows of an impending alert or has the wrong information about an emergency, none of those systems will work effectively.

By the time those impacted realize what’s going on, it might be too late to get your emergency response machine chugging. Reliable threat intelligence is vital to ensuring the best possible outcomes whenever your business faces a dangerous or impactful scenario.

How Intelligence Can Fail

If you want to respond to emergencies promptly and effectively, the various elements of your threat intelligence setup need to perform flawlessly. Consider the following common mistakes you’ll want to avoid when designing your threat response plans.

Unreliable sources

Your threat intelligence providers and sources should be reputable and authoritative. For example, it’s probably not a good idea to include private Twitter users in your list of intelligence sources as they don’t have any obligation to ensure their information is correct.

Unverified information

You should always double-check your threat intelligence or use a system that verifies sources when possible. For example, when tracking the impact of a nearby protest, Twitter can be a great source of up-to-the-minute info, but an independent third party must corroborate it before you rely on it to make decisions.

Slow intelligence delivery

You need to be able to get your intel in front of the right people quickly. Untimely delivery or hard-to-access alerts dramatically reduce the effectiveness of any threat warnings since your people might not receive (or be able to navigate to) information that would keep them safe.

Information overload

Your intelligence feeds need to be free from unnecessary information. You don’t want real threats getting lost in the shuffle. For example, if updates about a snowstorm in your county are taking up most of your feed, you may be more likely to miss the single threat of an active shooter near one of your offices. Being able to separate the “signal from the noise” will allow you to focus your emergency response efforts on the things that are directly endangering your people.

How to Avoid Bad Intelligence

Despite the myriad things that can go wrong with a threat intelligence system, there are ways to mitigate the common mistakes we outlined above.

High-quality sourcing

First and foremost, work with your team to think critically about which sources are relevant and helpful when it comes to gathering threat intelligence. Include only sources you know you can trust. A good place to start is with organizations that have a duty to protect and inform your community (e.g., your police department, fire department, EMS, trusted media sources, etc.). Be wary of police scanner accounts that listen to emergency service radio frequencies and repost what they hear, often repeating disinformation as the truth. Some of these accounts are reliable, but some of them can go dark without any notice, possibly leaving you scrambling to find new sources in the middle of a crisis.

Some sources claim to integrate machine learning or artificial intelligence into their search efforts to automate the information gathering process, but many of these sources are unreliable and should be used only when their information is also corroborated by human intelligence/analysts or other reputable sources.

Employee data organization

Quickly and accurately ascertaining which of your people should hear about a particular piece of threat intelligence is key to ensuring good outcomes in your emergency response. During an emergency, you’ll probably have a hard time remembering who needs to hear about what. To counteract this, create segmented lists of your people that reflect their geographic areas, work functions, home office, and any other signifiers that would facilitate effective communication during an emergency. Then, when you need to send a message to a particular group, you’ll have your contact list ready to go. Some communication systems even allow you to geofence for location-specific alerts by selecting an area on a map to restrict your message to only those affected.

Simple systems

Perhaps most importantly, a good threat intelligence system should be easy to use and simple to navigate. This kind of “human intelligence” can make your emergency response run smoothly and predictably. During an emergency, you and your team will be frazzled. Fine motor skills and sequential thinking capabilities are most likely diminished, so you won’t want to have to wrestle with your threat intelligence or emergency notification software to receive and share crucial information with your team. Simple systems can be life-saving during a crisis.

"You can have the best emergency procedures in place, but if nobody knows of an impending alert, none of those systems will be able to work effectively."

Technology solutions

Finally, just because you’ve been tasked with managing your company’s threat intelligence system doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Top-of-the-line threat intelligence systems may include 24/7 support from a monitoring team staffed by professional threat analysts. These teams can supercharge your ability to filter out the insignificant intel from the really important stuff, freeing up valuable time. Additionally, some modern emergency notification systems centralize event-specific information with event pages, creating hubs you and your people can visit to gather only the most relevant updates with no need to filter through feeds.

Analyst Access

At the end of the day, business intelligence operations can be burdensome and nerve-wracking. It can be hard to feel confident in your decisions when there’s so much information to sift through. This is quickly alleviated by working with a threat intelligence provider that allows direct chat access to trained professional analysts who can help you make sense of the information and make good decisions quickly.

These analysts can act as your private intelligence officers to help your organization get life-saving clarity about potentially harmful situations.

How AlertMedia Does It

AlertMedia’s mass notification system and threat intelligence monitoring have everything you need to track threats to your people and business easily. With robust and intuitive software, a 24/7/365 monitoring team, and the best customer support in the industry, AlertMedia is the best choice for your emergency preparedness. Schedule a demo to see how AlertMedia can help keep your organization safe and informed.

The Business Case for Human-Vetted Intelligence

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