New Spin on Emergency Communications: Social Media and Digital Platforms Influencing Traditional Notification

0519 Security
Everbridge software analyzes social media and news feeds, analysts monitor information to determine relevancy, then producing curated public safety feeds. Image credit: Everbridge Inc.

Emergency communication systems (ECS) and mass notification systems (MNS) are traditional, hardware and software-based solutions designed to provide early warning of fire, life safety and other events, such as active shooters or even natural disasters. Just as the digital transformation is affecting the speed and method of communications, social media, mobile platforms and real-time location services are influencing early detection.

Social media with geolocation services are additional real-time tools security users are leveraging, and they are often included as part of the immediate notification and layering of information integrated with traditional ECS and MNS. Corporate security teams and global security operation centers (GSOC) rely on social media to initiate quicker response and target appropriate actions. With the addition of this information, which can also include video, authorities or corporate security teams receive more detailed warnings faster.

The number of worldwide social media users has reached 2.34 billion and is expected to grow to 2.95 billion by 2020, according to statistics software company Statista, Hamburg, Germany. Statista predicts Facebook will continue to be the global market leader. As the goal of security communications is a positive outcome that minimizes loss, layering social media with traditional notification methods has become a significant influencing factor in developing targeted strategic response.

Social media’s impact

Social media alerts arrive more quickly than other notification methods, making them a positive part of emergency communications, and many software-based ECS and MNS are including and integrating this information into their gathering and reporting.

On April 3, 2018, an active shooter opened fire on three people at YouTube’s California headquarters and then took her own life. Software-based event detection and notification solution Dataminr, New York, a global real-time information discovery company, quickly detected eyewitness reports of the incident posted to social media and notified corporate security clients in the area, providing early awareness of the event and details from those on the ground.

Dataminr’s first alert preceded major news reports by 11 minutes.

Dataminr harnesses social media and other open-source information, applying artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to identify and select information specific to its clients and their employees. According to Tim Willis, director of corporate security EMEA, London, the trigger for MNS and ECS solutions is the organization becoming aware there is something they need to react to. Social media enables organizations to receive incident notification more quickly and with granular detail that can hasten follow-up actions and response.

“Real-time alerting is the key piece,” Willis said. “When you look at the market historically, there is a lag between an event and the security team becoming aware of it. We are alerting in real time of an incident, and this is a game-changer for security teams who can react far more quickly. The earlier you can identify and contain an incident the more you can drive a positive outcome.”

Everbridge Inc., Burlington, Mass., a global producer of enterprise software applications that automate and accelerate organizations’ operational response to critical events, actively leverages social media such as Twitter and Facebook, as well as other sources as part of its critical event management solution. The software-as-a-service platform alerts users of active shooter situations, terrorist attacks, and severe weather conditions, as well as business events such as IT outages, cyberattacks or incidents like product recalls or ­supply-chain interruptions.

“Social media is one of many resources we use to identify events important to our clients,” said Annie Asrari, director of product management for Everbridge. “Our software communicates to people based on triggers from keywords gathered from social media.

“We take a two-prong approach. Social media is the fastest form to communicate events, but there are nonemergencies, and there could be false alarms. We augment this with curated event feeds in which our own analysts examine threat data for our customers. We also partner with others to gather information, but curated data is not as fast as social media,” she said.

The curated feeds from Everbridge consist of three components: automation behind the scenes monitoring social media and news websites from across the world in the form of RSS feeds; analysts who monitor information and determine relevancy or irrelevancy, filtering through ‘noise;’ and the public safety feed and global threat intelligence resources.

“GSOCs have multiple tools to assess and reduce the impact of a threat, using social media as early warning, but layering in additional resources as well,” Asrari said.

Asrari said emergency communication and mass notification until recently were not based on location awareness and alerts were designed to communicate through multiple modalities, such as email and text message.

“Now, ECS has become much more location aware, and the traditional static system is not enough. We need to know the dynamic location of individuals, especially with our mobile society. For example, my employer still has a duty of care no matter where I am working, and we are also seeing that 70 percent or higher of the U.S. working, population are mobile, moving around from one building to another and may also be traveling. With more mobile workers, location awareness becomes essential, and that’s the direction systems are going.”

She also commented that people need to be notified about something happening without requiring an operator pressing a send button.  

“That’s no longer appropriate. Things happen in the middle of the night, and if you don’t have 24/7 staff, you need automation to address that. If something happens during off-hours, you need to be able to automate and manage critical events—notifying people if something bad happens without having someone pressing that button. That’s the direction we are going—allowing triggers from AI and machine learning to automatically launch standard operating procedures based on the location of key assets and our customers.”

While social media alerts are an important part of early warning, with all the different methods of information available it can be an ongoing challenge to manage through all the noise effectively.

“There is a huge amount of information out there from various platforms,” said EMEA’s Willis. “You need a platform that can distill the data and layer appropriate information. It also needs to fit into the overall security and risk matrix the company may have in place.”

To be effective, all of these platforms rely on the organization being aware an incident is taking place.

“The technology to enable is hugely important, but the ability to detect is critical,” he said.

About the Author

Deborah L. O'Mara

Freelance Writer

Deborah L. O’Mara is a journalist with more than two decades experience writing about security, life safety and systems integration, and she is the managing director of DLO Communications in Chicago. She can be reached at

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