The medium is the message


Philip Mason talks to the director of Everbridge's transportation practice Michael Cardarelli about the recent roll-out of its critical messaging technology at Edinburgh Airport.

The medium is the message
The medium is the message
If your area of interest is public safety communications, it’s very easy to become preoccupied with the emergency services at the expense of other areas of work which, by any definition, can also be considered ‘mission critical’
There are any number of reasons for this, the core one likely being that the emergency services are by far the most ‘public facing’, and in a sense also the most proactive when it comes to organisational activity. We see the police, ambulance and fire and rescue services doing things every day, and at times – if we’re unlucky – we may even need to call on them for help.
There are however also other organisations on whose successful operations depend the lives of countless people. We generally don’t think about this work however because we’re not supposed to be aware that it’s being carried out. Perhaps more importantly, thinking about it would also mean considering the horror that might ensue if the systems in question were to chronically break down.
One of these sectors is aviation, which operates via a massively interdependent ecosystem encompassing not just individual sites, but also airports and landing fields around the world. An increasingly integral part of this ecosystem is mission critical messaging as exemplified by Everbridge, which has recently rolled out its technology to Edinburgh Airport.
Tram crash, power outage, counter terror exercise
According to publicity published by Everbridge at the time of roll-out, the company’s relationship with Edinburgh began following three incidents related to the safe running of the site. These included a tram crash, a power outage, as well as a counter-terror exercise taking place on-campus.
It was through these experiences that the airport decided to overhaul the way it manages critical events, something which the company claims it was uniquely positioned to help achieve. 
Speaking of how its technology is being utilised, director of the company’s transportation practice Michael Cardarelli said: “What we do for them falls into two broad categories – the dissemination of information to stakeholders, as well as helping them to refine their operational processes. We’re integral to the way the airport operates now.
“The first of these workstreams is about delivering instant mission critical communications to operatives across the site, via our alerting system which sits in the cloud. That could be through email, SMS, text-to speech and so on. This is a very tangible part of our offer - the system is completely redundant, and when a message arrives, they can interactively respond.”
Perhaps more interesting however, at least in relation to Edinburgh, is the way in which the technology is being used to help ‘automate’ how operations are conducted on the ground. According to Cardarelli, this is a functionality which the company has already provided for more than 400 airports located across the world. 
“We were pulled into the aviation space in North America back in 2002,” he says. “It’s a sector which is incredibly forward-leaning when it comes to finding new solutions to increase efficiency and safety. Those customers have built not only their communications plans using our technology, but also their decision plans and crisis management plans as well.”
He continues: “The system as it’s deployed in Edinburgh essentially enables communications going in two directions. There’s the alerting which is pushed out, while at the same time employees and stakeholders also have the opportunity to feed information back into incident command in order to increase situational awareness. 
“As part of that functionality, we’re also able to implement a framework which can help operations personnel, as well as emergency management and law enforcement, to anticipate scenarios and build-out their response in advance. That’s built from learning which has already been derived from incidents onsite, but also from other locations around the world - say, for instance, a previous power outage at Atlanta airport.”
In order to illustrate this ‘external’ information gathering process, Cardarelli mentions his team’s involvement with the review of the 2016 Brussels airport bombing, as well as - in a different, but equally horrific, context - the mass shooting in Las Vegas which took place in 2017.
According to him, while the response details always remain confidential, the learning around security and critical event management process is something which agencies tend to be happy to share via the company’s technology.
The aforementioned review following major incidents -, often termed an after-action report (AAR) - provides recommendations for improving standard operating processes. These are subsequently digitised, making them accessible from mobile devices.
In terms of the flow of information originating on campus meanwhile, when an incident occurs users are presented with a series of electronic checklists relating to how operations are to be carried out. This in turn facilitates a “workflow framework,” through which the most efficient operational processes can be further refined to become both automatic and completely consistent.
Regarding the information gathering process itself, some is derived from individuals, while some comes from onsite technology. For example – according to Cardarelli –, if sensors detect an extended wait time at a security queue, the process through which management is informed can be automated.
Greying workforce
Returning back to the subject of Edinburgh Airport, the interview finishes with an enquiry about what the site had before, specifically in relation to ‘unifying’ it’s processes. What specifically prompted the operator to change? 
Speaking of this, Cardarelli says: “I think they - as well as a lot of our other clients - had multiple disparate systems working at the same time. That’s fine, but you then get into a situation where that kind of institutional knowledge exists only in the heads of people who have been working somewhere for 30 years. As with many other sectors, the ‘greying’ of the workforce is a major concern in the aviation industry.
“All three of the incidents which occurred highlighted to Edinburgh the need speed up when responders are called, as well as the benefits of extracting and bringing up information in terms of the response itself. It’s now all collated from one source, presented on a single pane of glass.”
He continues: “This enables us to provide a common operating picture, in which an operator can view information which is being reported around the site, and [in turn] initiate SOPs, activate teams, alert stakeholders, manage response, all while creating an 'auditable' log of activity.
“Until we developed our unified critical event management solution, the technology offering in this realm simply did not exist. People would have a standard operating procedure document, often in the form of a thick three ring binder left to gather dust on a shelf. Then they would have a separate alerting tool, a separate tool for peer to peer chat and so on.”
The aviation industry relies on critical communications technology for the efficient running of its business processes. Edinburgh Airport’s new relationship with Everbridge proves just how intuitively that technology can be used.


Philip Mason
Editor, Critical Communications Portfolio
Tel: +44 (0)20 3874 9216

Author: Philip Mason