The Importance of Using Location Data in Emergency Situations

location data in emergency services (Photo by NESA by Makers on Unsplash)

When a business’ administrators are communicating with their employees during a crisis, it’s important they have all the tools necessary to ensure quick, accurate, and easy transmission of alerts. One of the most powerful tools included in modern mass communication systems is location-based services, which include GPS tracking, map views, and functions like geofencing. Location is a primary factor in determining who is at risk in an emergency. So being able to receive and send that information is critical in a wide variety of events.

What Are Location Based Services?

Location services are, simply, tools that allow you to see something (or someone’s) location. They include any method used to help track the location of a person or thing. Smartphone apps can figure out a person’s location using GPS and cellular signal technology. For example, popular map apps employ these services to show you where you are and where you’re going. There are also standalone GPS sensors that you can buy and attach to objects for easy tracking, no smartphone required. Location can also be determined by more low-tech methods, such as a simple list of employee addresses. Modern emergency notification systems should be able to use all of these techniques.

Why Use Location Data in Emergency Situations

Many emergencies your business might face won’t threaten your entire company. For example, say one of your satellite offices experiences a power outage. You would like the employees stationed at the affected office to work remotely for the day. If you took a location-blind approach to this, you may inadvertently end up sending your entire company home. Additionally, many crisis scenarios are high-stress events. By using location features, you can carefully target your audience based on geographic location and avoid excess panic and worry.

Using Maps in an Emergency

Perhaps the most obvious way to gather location data is through a map view. Maps are incredibly powerful because they can show you at a glance where problems are as well as the people and places that might be impacted by them. In the heat of the moment, you might have trouble remembering which office is where. And keeping track of your employees’ locations in your head is impossible. But with a map, you can access all this information instantly.

Maps allow you to distribute alerts with surgical precision. Some emergencies, such as wildfires, affect locations unpredictably. Fires can meet barriers like roads or bodies of water and stop in their tracks. So one employee might live less than a mile from another and the impacts they see could be very different. It’s important to be able to match that unpredictability with accuracy. By using a map with both emergency information and employee locations, you can see who’s at danger with just a glance.

Finally, maps are perfectly suited to include weather data. We already use maps to display how storms and other dangerous weather patterns move. Layering that on top of your existing location data can be extremely valuable. With this synergy you can easily determine who is at risk of encountering bad weather and plan accordingly. When researching which emergency alert system is right for you, be sure to look for products that include these essential map features.

Employee Data to Consider

Physical Location

The first and perhaps most useful kind of location information you can have might already be in your HCM system. Most modern ENS systems allow you to import employee location data, such as their home address and office location, as well as their contact information. This can allow you to make educated guesses about where your employees are and what notifications may or may not be relevant to them. Keep in mind that this information is static and will not change unless updated in your system of record.

RFID Check-in

One of the most popular security tools in offices around the world today are RFID-enabled ID cards. You’ve probably come across these before: credit card-sized plastic rectangles that employees can use to unlock doors electronically, clock in to work, or access business systems. By integrating your RFID system with your ENS, you can get real-time updates on employee location and know when your people enter or leave a location.

Travel Schedules

Any worthwhile emergency communication system should not only be able to protect your employees while at their desks, but while they’re traveling for work as well. One way to easily import travel data is by integrating your employee notification system with your business’s Corporate Travel Management system, which will automatically update your traveling employees’ locations. You can rest assured that you’ll be able to send accurate, relevant messages to your workforce no matter their location.

Mobile app / Location services

These days, about 77% of Americans use some kind of smartphone. These phones are equipped with GPS modules that can transmit geographic coordinates in real time. This is enhanced by the fact that most people carry their cell phones with them at all times, increasing accuracy. With your emergency notification app, you can tap in to this wealth of GPS information to automatically track where your employees are. Luckily, if any of your employees are not comfortable with that, they should be able to opt out of GPS tracking, ensuring that everyone is happy with their service.

What to Monitor

Source Feeds

It’s hard to know what’s happening around the world, or even in your own town. That’s why it’s important to be able to keep track of “source feeds,” which are feeds of information that you pull from a particular source, such as your local fire department or the National Weather Service. For example, you can use the National Weather Service’s Twitter feed to get the latest updates on severe weather. Any comprehensive ENS should be able to automatically push out alerts when it detects source feed posts that are relevant to your business and your employees, making sure everyone has up-to-date information straight from the appropriate authorities.

Weather

Inclement and dangerous weather are some of the most common reasons that businesses use emergency notification systems. However, it can be difficult to know what weather events are going to impact your business without a visual aid. Luckily, detailed weather data is available in map form. With a high-quality emergency notification system you should be able to see this mapped weather data from your dashboard, overlayed on a map which includes the locations of your offices and your people.

Geofencing

Now that you have all of this great information in the form of employee location, source feeds and weather maps, you have to have a tool that allows you to make use of it. With geofencing, you can easily, quickly and intuitively choose your notification’s audience with just a click and a drag.

Geofencing allows you to draw a “fence” around a particular area of the map. The system then automatically includes everyone in that area in the audience. This can be incredibly useful when one has to immediately send out a notification to those affected by, say, a flash flood. You may not have time to think about which of your groups or locations you should include in your notification. But if you’re using a robust notification system with geofencing, you can quickly draw a circle on the map around the affected area, including everyone you need to and excluding everyone you don’t on just one screen.

Location Data in Emergency Situations

Sending a geo-targeted message

In Practice

Some people are skeptical of the benefits that a robust, map-integrated emergency notification system can provide. Such was the case with Kawasaki, one of the largest producers of motor vehicles in the world, before they were able to put their system to use during a California wildfire. Kawasaki leveraged AlertMedia’s pioneering map and geofencing technology to keep their employees safe and informed during the Inyo County fires earlier this year.

Maps help distill lots of information into an easy-to-digest format, allowing faster and more accurate communication during a crisis. AlertMedia’s industry leading software can help your organization accomplish all of this and more. Contact us if you’re looking to learn more about making communication easier and more efficient during crisis events.

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