Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: Coronavirus Highlights Importance of Public Warning Systems

By David Meredith

Taking the globe by storm, coronavirus dominates news and business agendas while spreading fear and uncertainty in its wake.

As a citizen who grew up in the City of Falls Church, I worry about the safety of my friends and family in the area. As CEO of Everbridge, Inc. (Nasdaq: EVBG), I support a global team of “Bridgers” who provide Critical Event Management (CEM) solutions to help protect people around the world. Everbridge operates as a mission-driven company to keep people safe and businesses running. The COVID-19 outbreak highlights the importance of that mission more than ever before. As the leader in CEM, Everbridge provides a software-as-a-service platform to protect the things we care about – people, business and government assets, supply chains, and reputation – from a world fraught with an increasing number of threats such as natural disasters, man-made attacks, cyber, IT disruptions and viral outbreaks, which collectively represent critical events.

Founded in the aftermath of the tragic events of 9/11, Everbridge originally focused on how to improve critical communications to better protect people during a crisis. Over the years, we expanded the reach of our critical event management customer ecosystem to include over 1,500 healthcare organizations, almost 4,000 first responder entities, blue-chip businesses like Goldman Sachs, Microsoft and retailer Tiffany & Co., some of the largest states like California, Florida and New York, as well as entire countries including Australia, Singapore, Peru, parts of India and four countries in Europe.

Closer to home, Everbridge proudly serves the National Capital Region (NCR) which spans Washington D.C., and parts of Maryland and Virginia, including the City of Falls Church.

As communities around the world grapple to collaborate in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, we’re all learning new phrases such as ‘social distancing’ – the idea of communicating while people stay at home, work remotely, travel less and avoid public spaces. As a result, we see impacts most have never experienced: in-person university classes cancelled for months; the National Basketball Association suspending its season; Disney World closing its theme parks; stores closed because they cannot verify employees are free of the virus; and manufacturing plants shuttered.

Ironically, coronavirus-inspired social distancing requires our communities to be more interconnected with accurate information curated and delivered in a timely manner. But, if we can’t be around people, how are we going to stay informed?

Critical Communications: The Right Message at the Right Time

Getting accurate and timely information as the virus spreads unpredictably and indiscriminately across the globe can save lives, and a persistent multi-national critical event such as COVID-19 requires full-scale population alerting. The public must be kept informed with calm and clear guidance, plans and facts, rather than being left to filter through the overwhelming amount of sometimes contradictory data found on the Internet and other forms of media.

Public warning systems must reach everyone, thereby enabling first responders to effectively inform those in danger. Authorities need the tools to quickly reach the broadest number of people in affected locations. Mobile phones are therefore integral to such systems, providing citizens the chance to opt-in to receive critical texts and updates, and allowing authorities to maintain registries of populations at risk medically who require special attention.

In serving the National Capital Region, the Everbridge platform provides multiple modalities for communicating important messages to citizens in a public safety crisis or even during special events like the Presidential Inauguration. Among other options, in order to make it easy for people to participate even if they don’t have a smart phone or know how to use a mobile app, residents of the region can simply send a text message with a key word to be included in public alerting communications related to various topics of interest or urgency. For example, residents of greater Fairfax County including Falls Church can simply text FFXCOVID to 888777 to receive virus-related alerts and information directly from local government officials.

Effective public warning systems, whatever their form, also have other roles. One, through location-based two-way alerting, allows people to respond to the message saying whether they have been injured and need help, giving authorities the information to deploy an effective and appropriate response. Another example relates to getting official authoritative advice which helps reduce panic and associated consequences, such as unnecessary stockpiling. While coronavirus offers a salient current use case, planning for any critical event should be carefully crafted by all relevant responders and stakeholders before an incident occurs.

I remember the City of Falls Church as a close-knit community where people care about and help each other. So, while we may be entering a period of ‘social distancing’ due to COVID-19, we can use technology to remain interconnected, stay informed, and support the safety of our most vulnerable citizens.

David Meredith is the CEO of Everbridge, specializing in critical event management and enterprise safety software applications.