On message in a crisis Article icon


During a crisis situation, the ability to communicate effectively and efficiently with staff is of major importance to an organisation. But strategic communications can be hindered and muddied by a number factors: an initial panic, misinformed departments and a delay in responsive actions.

Therefore the battle of driving technology advancement to enable a two-way communication application is crucial not only for threat awareness but also coordinating company staff to perform effectively during a crisis.

Here the tech wizards at UK-based YUDU have produced a convincing answer to a very problematic question. The company’s Sentinel cloud-based service has the ability to share live updates as an incident unfolds.

Using the same approach as a group chat and other messaging services, Sentinel differs as its primary purpose is to share content securely while allowing real-time communication with a person’s mobile device acting as a hub.

Crucially, YUDU’s crisis management software delivers chat channels that are tailored strategically to allow for corporate monitoring – something truly unique. As a result, companies can communicate through secure groups.

In crisis situations, communication through phone calls and standard text-based SMS can take time and prove inefficient. Furthermore, in the case of wireless connectivity loss, web-based communication apps stop working.

Crisis communication
‘What we set out to do was to give all the ease of use and core features provided by WhatsApp overlaid with corporate governance tools,’ explains YUDU owner and chief executive Richard Stephenson. ‘YUDU has focused on crisis communication as a place to start, but users are already exploring and widening the scope as it has the potential to provide a new, secure, off-email communication channel for organisations. Collaboration is at the heart of problem solving and problems don’t get much crazier than when a crisis hits.’

The app is essentially a delivery system, where it sits on the phones of users. Within the app there are three main areas: messaging, documents and contacts. These provide users with the ability to receive and respond to messages, access to all necessary documentation and a database, with all the contact details, phone numbers and emergency numbers required in the event of a crisis.

Sentinel has successfully deployed its communication technology for professional service firms, event venues and the hospitality industry. For example, Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) – a business partnership in a specific area to fund particular projects, such as the Victoria Westminster Partnership in London – have adopted Sentinel into their crisis management architecture.

Chris Tsikolis, Victoria BID’s head of security and business resilience, says: ‘Security issues across London BIDs vary, from low level anti-social behaviour – shoplifting and so forth – to more serious incidents like terrorist threats and black swan events, like the Holborn fire a few years ago.’

In this way Sentinel allows security teams in public areas to address both low and high-level threats quickly by serving as the communication bridge between city police forces and business districts.

Sentinel also allows BIDs to minimise uncertainty through informing security teams of threats before anyone else, thus keeping public areas safe.

Addressing the challenge that Sentinel matched, Tsikolis adds: ‘We’re using Sentinel to ensure that the right people get the right information fast, regardless of where they are.’

Speed is key. Stephenson adds: ‘It is all about speed. We want two-way feedback. So being able to frame questions to a particular group in terms of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers and then to have them immediately displayed back on to a traffic light system where greens are ‘yes’, the ‘noes’ red and those who have not responded orange – it means you are then focusing on orange and red. That is how you can save lives quickly.’

‘When a crisis happens, you have an hour, two hours, maybe six hours, where you have to act quickly and correctly if you are going to have a positive outcome’, observes Chris Phillips, former head of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office.

For Tsikolis, the use of Sentinel has been a successful one. ‘When we started this journey I’d never before worked with app developers and Sentinel were really helpful and very supportive. We truly believe in innovation through technology and I think Sentinel is one of those tools that will help us achieve this target.’

Instant feedback
With Travers Smith, a leading law firm in London, YUDU’s Sentinel replaced the firm’s previous text-based messaging service, which proved completely inadequate.

‘We chose Sentinel because we needed the ability to contact our staff very quickly in a crisis situation,’ says head of IT at Travers Smith, David Cassidy. ‘Our previous system was text-based, but we had no real means of getting replies back, so we never really knew how many people received the message or dealt with it. Sentinel allows us to get that instant feedback.’

This was brought into sharper focus with the attempted train bombing on Parsons Green tube in 2017 – demonstrating the importance of immediate employee contact in such a crisis situation. ‘The Parsons Green incident happened before we had the Sentinel system, so it really highlighted to the firm we needed a [new] system in place as we didn’t have any effective way to communicate with our employees,’ notes Travers Smith’s HR systems and MI specialist Erin Green.

‘There are companies who pride themselves on being the best employers in the country and then they ask ‘Do I have the ability to look after my people in a crisis?’ notes Stephenson. ‘That is good employment practice. But it is also good business sense. And any good and responsible business or organisation should take a hard look at themselves and ask: do they have the systems in place, not to plan for a crisis, but how to react to it after the event.’

Sentinel has transformed the ability of Travers Smith to effectively communicate. Green notes: ‘We use Sentinel to make sure that we can communicate to all our employees and all our partners in any business continuity situation. It is our duty of care to make sure that we can account for the whereabouts of all our employees and partners as quickly as we can, and that is what the [Sentinel] system allows us to do.’

Cassidy adds: ‘We use Sentinel for emergency notifications in a number of ways. We have used it for dry runs so that we could work out we had all the data correct.’ Consequently, the dial in response rate has improved. The law firm experienced an impressive 80 per cent staff responsiveness rate using Sentinel during an event on the first occasion of testing, increasing to a ‘high nineties’ response on the second occasion.

‘We’ve also used it for IT outages,’ adds Cassidy. ‘If we discover that there’s going to be problems with the system we send messages out to warn people that they are coming into a bit of downtime, so it has worked well for that.’

Advantage of user groups
Green also enthuses about the user group aspect. ‘Within Sentinel we can set up different user groups so we can communicate to specific populations and we’ve probably got about 20 different user groups set up within the firm. So if we want to specifically focus on a group of people that we know travel on a specific line or [from a] station then we can absolutely do that. We create a user group and send it to those people. It’s a very straightforward process.’

Cassidy adds: ‘YUDU were very helpful. They came in before we started, had a look at our requirements, started to mock the system up for us so that we could see how it would work in practice and were really helpful in the import of data.’

Green also notes that since Sentinel has been up and running the feedback from within the company has been really upbeat. ‘The feedback that we’ve had across the firm and from users has been extremely positive. Some of the key things that have come out include that it is very easy to use. It is a centralised place that people know they can go and get relevant information. The other really positive feedback is around the analytics of the system: we can run reports to track the success of communicating to employees, either in a real-life situation or also in our business continuity situations.’

Stephenson concludes that the technological changing nature of the world poses challenges to companies. ‘We live in a world where we have the Twittersphere and 24-hour rolling news and that is not going to wait for companies. Companies traditionally when faced with a crisis tend to look inwardly. The problem is that outside, news is being made all the time. So we need tools that go inside the organisation, get the information, and then respond accurately in a faster way that we have ever had to do before,’ he says.