disaster management in the cloud - crisis response

Disaster Management using Cloud Technology

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Managing a Crisis or Disaster using Cloud based tools

Today I’m writing about an interview I conducted last week with a company called YUDU, regarding crisis and disaster management.

It just so happens to coincide with Hurricane Dorian’s devastating landfall in the Bahamas. So I’d like to touch on that briefly before I continue.

Hurricane Dorian


We have our limitations, when the hurricane is upon us, with the best intention, we will not be able to act…and we will not be able to get to you.Samuel Butler, Bahamas Police

The images in this video are terrifying, and the sobering words from Mr Samuel Butler of the Bahamas Police Force truly illustrate human-kind’s vulnerability to nature.

In fact, his words moved me so much I made a small donation via Direct Relief. I know my donation won’t go very far but I wanted to offer something more than just hopes and thoughts. (Please note, this isn’t an endorsement of Direct Relief, but my research showed they were a trustworthy charity, read this for an example)

Disasters will strike

So what can you do?

The cost of this and all the other storms, hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, floods, tsunamis, fires, accidents or deliberate acts of destruction are utterly unfathomable. I honestly wouldn’t know where to even start trying to work that out, or understand it.

The costs touch every part of human nature; from existence, relationships, emotion, purpose and hope, to infrastructure, business, government and the environment. The costs are both immediate and long term.

As humans, we tend to be pretty bad at giving appropriate thought and attention to planning for risks that we’d rather not have to deal with, even though many of them are certain, if not, highly likely. As an example, how many of you enjoy planning you Will, or updating your Critical Illness insurance cover? No, me neither. I do it because I have a duty to do it, but once done I want to focus on other things.

As a family man I have a a duty to do this. As a business owner, I also have a duty to do this.

Planning for business disasters and crisis

A disaster or crisis for a business, like in our personal lives, can vary and be very specific. For example, a company that conducts all its business online would define a website outage as a crisis, whereas a fire or flood might be significantly more disastrous for a food manufacturing plant than a broken website.

The one thing in common across all businesses is that when disaster strikes, it will be the preparation you have put in before that helps mitigate the risks to both life, wellbeing and business continuity. It’s also worth noting that contingency plans should be reviewed regularly, as this example below illustrates.

When fire swept through an office

If you’ve ever worked in a large office, the disaster preparation you are most likely to have experienced is the fire-drill. We’ve all done these. We’ve all left our desk calmly, made our way to the nearest exit without worrying about picking up our belongings and assembled safely in the carpark whilst awaiting the signal that all is clear and we can return to our desks.

We’ve all done it because it’s the law that employers do that. We’ve all left our belongings because we know it’s a drill. We probably didn’t give second thoughts to the business assets we left behind or what happened to our emails, documents or projects. We might have only thought about this if it was our job to do that.

In a story I heard recently, a firm of lawyers had done that planning. Beyond their care of duty to their employers with the regular fire-drills and safety practices, they had made back-ups of their records and their data. They were securely locked away in fireproof storage in the basement.

fire in holbornAn electrical fire under the pavement in central London led to some 5,000 people being evacuated from nearby buildings and the cancellation of a number of West End shows. More..Source: BBC News
One day the unthinkable did happen and fire did strike. Thankfully it wasn’t their building, but the smoke was so intense and the risk unclear that the building was evacuated. With the staff safe and sound, their contingency planning went into immediate action, but wait, there was a problem. The fire was so severe, and smoke so thick that whilst the contingency plans were safe in their protective storage, they simply could not access the basement to get hold of them.

Compounding this, since their telephone and IT systems were also situated in the basement they had also been put out of action and the company had no easy way to contact their staff to make sure they were safe and give them guidance, nor could they answer incoming calls from worried third parties, families, stakeholders, customers.

Cloud based disaster management

As I touched on in a previous post, many established businesses are still quite digitally naive and find adoption of new technologies intimidating. In that post, I discussed how the relatively simple step towards adopting a Cloud based technology had a significant positive impact on their day-to-day operations.

Cloud technologies can play a significant role in helping businesses not just recover from disaster or crisis, but also prepare for and manage them.

During the heat of the moment, it is crucial to be able to consult plans, and communicate effectively with executives, staff, emergency responders, and other groups of people such as customers or support partners. Hiccups, delays and lack of clarity can result in panic, miscommunication and ultimately increase risks and damage.

To learn more about how Cloud solutions can help with disaster management I invited Francesca Taylor from YUDU to join me up the Westminster Cathedral Tower to discuss it.

Francesca gave me examples of how their solution started life as an offsite backup system for important company documents. So, in the Lawyer example above, the records and contingency plans wouldn’t have been trapped in a basement and could have been easily accessed from a mobile phone. That alone would have dramatically improved their management of the crisis.

Francesca explained that whilst working with their clients they realised the challenges in communicating effectively during those moments of crisis, and how much value there was in making that easy, well managed and accessible. Their platform now makes it super easy to communicate with employees, emergency services and the public.

How it does this

At the core, YUDU’s Sentinel platform is a Cloud based system that stores documents and allows one-to-many and one-to-one communications via text or voice.

  • One-to-many examples: Broadcast a message to all employees, or a “Sentinel hotline” the public can call for updates.
  • One-to-one examples: Discussion between the company crisis coordinator and their counterpart in an emergency services, or a manager checking a particular team member is ok.

Actually, one of the communications features I love (because I worked in a company trying to do this a few years ago) is “instant conference calls”. Simply put, at the press of the button an SMS is sent to all participants of the conference call, they simply click the link in the SMS and are automatically joined to the call. They don’t need to write down the phone number or passcode. So simple, it’s great.

The kinds of documents it stores are, of course all the critical company documents, but additionally they’ve been working to create flashcards that can be used during the heat of the crisis to help even new or temporary staff know what to do and how to react.

Having information in the Cloud is useful, but you need to be able to access it, or push it directly to the relevant people as and when needed. To do this, YUDU creates private mobile ready websites for use by executives and employees, has a mobile app that employees and partners can use, and can instantly enable telephone hotlines for handling inbound enquiries or ad-hoc conference calls between selected parties.

So many applications

During our conversation we discussed how this kind of solution could be valuable to all sorts of businesses, organisations and groups, some of which I will summaries below:

  • Private companies to manage disaster and crisis response as discussed above
  • Governments and local authorities for the management of disruptions (strikes, demonstrations etc), severe weather, public safety or security incidents
  • Business parks, retail groups and consortia to manage security and public incidents across a wide area with many different stakeholders or parties involved. Actually one of their clients is the Victoria and Westminster Business Improvement District (BID), which is why I chose the Westminster Cathedral Tower because you can view the district from there. (photos here)
  • University campuses to help better manage student and staff safety
  • Hotels for guest and staff safety

The future

I am excited by how many applications there are already for this kind of technology, but as other technologies advance I see many other possibilities. For example:

  • IoT (Internet of Things) devices could help warn people of events of threats like fire, flood, seismic activity and even trigger a crisis management workflow, e.g. establish an instant conference call with the crisis management team
  • Augmented Reality could be added to help emergency services see hidden risks and threats behind buildings or under floors
  • 5G could support realtime video communications

Want to know more

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If you would like to know more about the company, solution or technology we've discussed here, please do get in touch.

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