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Everbridge Interview with Tom Pressley

05 November 2019

Philip Ingram MBE talks to Tom Pressley, the VP of International Marketing at Everbridge, and how Everbridge are trying to make the world a better and safer place.

(PI) Hello Tom, can you tell me a little about yourself?

(TP) I am Tom Pressley, the VP of International Marketing at Everbridge and I’m fairly new into the company having been with them for three months now. I have had a fairly long career in marketing in both the retail and then latterly the technology sector.

With Everbridge I realised it is one of the few companies that I have come across that is actually trying to improve the world, rather than just concentrating on cold hard cash and the bottom line. A company genuinely trying to make the world a better and a safer place, so it seemed like a good company to work for.

(PI) What is important about the public messaging space at the moment?

(TP) To answer that it’s probably helpful to explain a little about what Everbridge does.

We help to keep people safe and businesses running day to day.

Since 2002 we have provided ‘critical event management’ solutions for companies and organisations all over the world.  What we call a critical event is any incident which impacts on life safety or could disrupt operations or damage physical assets like buildings. For example, severe weather, cybercrime or terrorist attacks.

However, from a public warning perspective, we are starting to hear from governments worldwide who have woken up to the fact that they need a much more sophisticated solution in place to help keep their population safe when any type of critical event occurs. What has put this on the agenda in Europe, is a new directive from the European Union that came out in December 2018, as part of the EECC European Electronic Communications Code, which deals with a lot of different aspects of modern communication. Article 110 of that directive states that every European Union member state has to have a public warning system in place that is operated via mobile phone. Countries have to have a solution in place by the middle of 2022.

(PI) Will Brexit affect the European directives and how will messages be communicated to people’s phones?

(TP) Well that’s the big question isn’t it. I think, regardless of what happens on the 31st October, this is not something that the government will be keen to drop, even if we do walk away from Europe without a deal. We are dealing with the safety of the population and people’s lives. So, I don’t think this is going to go away.

Governments have been trying to solve the best way to communicate with their population during a crisis for many years. Back to the Second World War, sirens were used, and are still an important part of public warning systems today – for example in Tsunami zones or countries with remote populations. We’re now also using TV warnings, radio messages and in the last 20 years the use of social media and mobile devices.  About 92% of the population has a mobile phone and most of the time it is no more than a couple of feet away from us. This creates a perfect opportunity and a platform for governments to communicate with people and transmit messages.

(PI) So, how have you got my personal details, why are you communicating with me, without my permission? Is this something that the data-protection community are suddenly going to be worrying about?

(TP) I think the data protection community are always going to stick their oar in, whenever there’s an opportunity to do so. But again, this comes down to the type of technology that governments actually choose to go with. At Everbridge we advocate a technology called ‘Location Based SMS’. This only uses the mobile phone number and SIM card country of origin – and this is data which the end user has already provided to their MNO (mobile network operators) - the data is secure within the platform.

Our software requests that data from the MNOs (mobile network operators) and crucially then allows the authorities to do a device count.

What data the network providers actually retain is in your contract T’s and C’s. So, if your government messaged you to say: ‘Where are you? There is a crisis. Move out of this danger zone.’  They could then use the location-based system to show if the number of devices is reducing. In other words, indicating that the evacuation instruction is working - whether you’re actually moving in the right place, the right location and they can monitor the population moving away from danger. Now that’s not something that requires any data sign off, no-one needs to be rushing to their local authorities complaining that we’re about to steal their identity or anything like that – but it is useful for the authorities to plan their response.  For example, the location-based system shows there are 21,000 devices in the affected area that will help them plan how many ambulances, police vehicles might be needed to deploy to that zone – or for humanitarian efforts following a natural disaster– it will help to plan how many food parcels or shelter packs to drop.

(PI) What are the different solutions out there that fit with the varying scales of use?

(TP) Everbridge advocates a scenario scoping exercise for each different country or municipality as they will have different threats to life safety, different requirements, different infrastructure and therefore need different solutions. Also, the frequency, likelihood and impact of events will vary across nations.  For instance, Greece and Spain are susceptible to wildfires in highly populated areas, whereas tsunamis are a threat to settlements in the Norwegian fjords. By comparison, the UK has very few severe weather events affecting large populations but might need to consider terrorist attacks.

Cell broadcast is the recommended solution to get a message out to a big population incredibly quickly, you could send a message out to people in seconds. That’s the most effective way of getting a message out for a nationwide emergency when there is a high degree of urgency for example, an earthquake or tsunami or a widespread hazardous chemical release.

The usefulness of cell broadcast is limited if the incident is more localised and you want more information as you manage the ongoing response. With Location-based SMS you can assess population location or see ‘clusters’ and have a two-way communication.  Another important factor is that of language. The European Directive says that you not only have to be able to communicate to your own people, but also to tourists who are visiting, and you have to be able to communicate in the different languages as well.

Everbridge provides a very open platform, where lots of different technologies can plug into it, based on whatever scenario scoping has been done for that specific country. The most important piece is not just selling a solution it is selling the right solution set to actually meet the requirements that they have and that takes engagement from the outset.

Within the public warning sector portfolio, We have a platform designed to manage critical events. The tools in the platform allow the authorities to ‘assess’ what is happening, ‘locate’ people who are in harm’s way then ‘act’ by sending alerts or instructions. This can be an iterative cycle if multiple messages are need during a major incident. Finally, there is an ‘analysis’ phase – sometimes called ‘after action reports’ – when the dust settles, it’s possible to look at how effective the response was, where there were gaps and what can be improved should something like that happen again.

At a basic level, we can offer mass notification, through to ingesting other data like environmental or traffic data into a platform to give you the most relevant information. It can incorporate digitised crisis management plans (which is a requirement). Within that your templates for responding to critical events is loaded into the platform as well.

Then you have what we call a single pane of glass, which is our visual command centre is like something out of the ‘Minority Report’ film. You can see all the different types of data being ingested into the platform. You can see the map on the screen, where all your people are and how you can actually communicate with them and their location worldwide. So there’s a fantastic amount of data and I think it’s sort of indicative of where crisis management is actually moving to, I think from the purely reactive state where something happens and you have to communicate with people, to a proactive state, where you’re actually assuming and predicting some of these scenarios that you’re likely to come up against and planning according to that. So, when it does happen, you’re much better prepared to respond to that crisis.

I think in the future, there will be more data and experiences ingested into the platform and we will be able to get to an almost predictive state. So, it’s a very broad over-arching management suite for critical events and we’re taking our customers on a journey. In fact, we are already preventing loss of life in places like India where the number of fatalities dropped dramatically after a public warning system was implements. 

I think when I describe to people the full breadth of what we do, they are a little bit daunted.  We help take them on what we call a resilience and maturity journey. They can achieve a gold-standard of resilience, whereby they can visualise the threats and manage their response, or mitigate the impact of critical event on the things they care about, or even at the most mature level, they can entirely remove the threat by taking pre-emptive action. This has to be the goal for corporations as well as countries - keeping people safe and day-to-day operations running no matter what happens.

(PI) So, gold standard usually means high price, is it cost effective for companies or countries to do this?

(TP) It absolutely is cost-effective. I think it’s obviously very dependent on where the organisation is on their journey. But again, can you really put a particular price tag on keeping the people who work for you safe and minimising the cost to your business of am major disruption?

For countries in the EU they have a compelling reason to implement a public warning system, but even without the legislation, that has to be the right thing to do – which is why countries outside of Europe are taking the lead including Australia, Singapore and India.

We always spend time with customers to understand what their requirements are and tailor our solutions to meet their requirements. Obviously, there is a money for us but we invest a high percentage of our revenues into R&D to develop to ensure we keep innovating for the future. We have had no complaints from our customers to date in terms of cost, in fact quite the opposite.

(PI) Are there any specific questions or areas potential user should be looking at?

(TP) The first thing they should be thinking about is that they only have a few years left to get a solution set in place. Remember this European legislative deadline for them to have a solution in place is June 2022.

Then in terms of the questions that they should be asking, I think this comes back to the point of scenario scoping and what the different organisations want to be able to do with the communication objectives that they have.  

When it comes to recommending a solution, I think it’s really important to engage the services, platform providers, even the general public, to actually understand what the best solution fit is.

(PI) Now, you’re taking part in the International Disaster Response Expo with the co-located International Security Expo at Olympia at the end of the year. What are you hoping to get out of those two events?

(TP) Well, events are absolutely fantastic opportunities to meet people that we can help. I think it’s obviously from the initial position of actually turning up there and showing the Everbridge brand to people and help build awareness of our platforms is absolutely vital. We are proud to sponsor the International Disaster Response summit which will bring together officials from countries and cities worldwide to discuss how to make their population safer and responds more effectively to a humanitarian disaster.

The wonderful things about these events is it brings like-minded people together to share ideas, to share content and to get up to speed. This is an area where the technology is moving at such a break-neck pace, and we’re seeing developments happening all the time, you have to actually go to these events to understand what’s happening, who the key players are, how you can actually collaborate. We are on stand G80 at the International Disaster Response Expo.