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BCI Emergency Communications Report 2021

The Business Continuity Institute (BCI), in partnership with F24, has released the 6th edition of the BCI Emergency Communications Report. This annual publication provides insight into how organizations communicate in an emergency, the key communication challenges organizations face, and how technology is helping to assist in communications processes.

Organizations are moving away from tools from such as WhatsApp and using more collaborative tools such as Microsoft Teams, which is also being used in incident situations. Many organizations, who have been using collaborative tools/software for the first time in 2020, are now seeking to extend investment into specialist emergency communications technology solutions.

With the rise in remote working, the use of software-as-a-service (SaaS) has continued to rise in 2020 with three-quarters of organizations now using it – compared to 16% who use on-premises installed software. SaaS technologies have the advantage of being able to be deployed quickly across multiple devices and for plans to be activated faster.

Cost remains the primary barrier – especially for smaller organizations – to investing in emergency communications solutions. 30% of organizations who have no dedicated tools or software admit cost is the major barrier. However, the interviews in the report showed that, because of COVID-19, senior management are interested in investing in emergency communications solutions tools – showcasing the need for such a tool to be employed.

Activation times are getting quicker: 41% of organizations can now activate their plans within the ‘golden five minutes’ – compared to 32% in 2019. Although some of this improvement can be attributed to the rise in the use of SaaS technologies, some of it is down to increased training and exercising of plans. Many organizations reported that COVID-19 has resulted in multiple activations this year which have helped to highlight issues causing delays in activation.

In 2020, 57.5% of organizations reported using virtual crisis rooms – compared to 54.5% who reported using a physical crisis room – but with most organizations having less staff on site, the move to virtual environments is expected to rise.

Previous reports have highlighted an overreliance on tools from the private environment for communication during emergency situations (e.g. WhatsApp). Whilst these are tools that most people are familiar with, they do not have the functionality required for a safe and secure solution for communication. This year, just 19% of organizations admitted using a tool such as WhatsApp for communication during an emergency.

The level of training and exercising carried out in organizations has remained unchanged in 2020. Three-quarters of organizations have still been able to exercise emergency communications plans this year and 82% have been able to exercise plans. Real-life activations due to COVID-19 have also acted as a training tool and they are likely to be a factor in faster response times and meeting response time targets.

Other report findings include:

  • Communicating with staff was the primary concern for organizations in 2020: just over half (52.2%) admitted communicating with staff was their primary challenge during an incident, but only two-thirds (68.2%) kept employee contact details up to date.
  • The number of organizations able to achieve their expected response times has risen for the fourth year in a row to 78.5%.
  • Senior Management are frequently the failure point in many organizations: many have been involved so heavily in the COVID-19 response, they have not attended training sessions.
  • Nearly three quarters of organizations have still been able to carry out training for emergency communication plans at least every twelve months.
  • Business Continuity and Crisis Management are frequently taking joint responsibility for managing the emergency communications process.
  • Disease outbreak accounted for over half (51.7%) of emergency communication plan activations in 2020 compared to just 2.7% in 2019. Increased phishing attacks this year have resulted in an increase in alerting for cyber security incidents or data breaches from 19,7% in 2019 to just under a quarter (24,7%) now.
  • An increase in fake news this year has been a challenge to organizations: unofficial news sources are more frequently being used for information than official ones.
  • Organizations are increasingly looking to automate the updating of data on emergency communication systems by syncing with HR records. 49.0% of organizations report this is now standard practice compared to 43.0% in 2019.
  • Adoption of Internet-of-Things (IoT) devices as part of an emergency communications plan has not seen any increase in 2020: many are still wary of the effectiveness when all data needs to be fully checked by a human before it is escalated.

Access the full report via the BCI.

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