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Everyone is exposed at some point to a variety of threats like natural or manmade disasters, cyber threats, crime, etc. The current pandemic has not only increased our realisation of the risks but has also generated a sense of urgency for individuals and organisations to be better prepared for the next critical event.

Despite the increased awareness around critical events, there is a colossal gap between acknowledging the need for preparedness for a critical event and actually taking the right steps towards it. Prior to COVID-19, an organization’s readiness for a “black swan” critical event was a nebulous area with no real impetus for concrete knowledge and strategy. This relative sense of safety, indeed apathy, had led to a lack of knowledge and infrastructure among organisations, which, in turn, is the primary cause of this gap.

David Meredith, Chief Executive Officer, Everbridge

To get a more in-depth understanding of the criticality of the situation, OpenGov Asia spoke with David Meredith, Chief Executive Officer, Everbridge. Not only to make sense of the scenario but also to learn how Everbridge fills in the gaps by making nations and organisations more resilient.

David defined a critical event as a consequence of the interaction between things that organisations value (people, assets, operations, brand, reputation, etc.) and the threats they are exposed to (crime, pandemics, natural disasters, cyber threats, etc.).

He explained that the origin of Everbridge was as an enabler of critical communication during crises post the 9/11 attacks in the USA. “Our founders saw that when people were going back to the second tower there wasn’t an effective way of communicating with people in the middle of a crisis or a critical event. The company originally focused on critical communications and became a leader in that space,” said David. The initial focus on critical communication quickly broadened to a full software and services platform suite called Critical Event Management (CEM).

David was pleased to share that with the increasing awareness around critical events globally, Everbridge is expanding operations in various parts of the world, and especially in South East Asia.

Being in the critical event management space for more than two decades has afforded the company some valuable learnings from their experiences in the west which they are looking to apply to new adopters globally.

“Countries and companies all over the world are dealing with critical events, so it’s not a question of if you are going to be impacted by a critical event, but when and what type of event. And more importantly, how prepared you will be to deal with that critical event when it does happen,” said– David.

Everbridge works closely with governments and organisations to help them be well prepared for eventualities or possibilities they envision. They are already powering public warning systems in Singapore, New Zealand, and Australia, to name a few countries.

David emphasised the importance of complete situational awareness during a critical event. Everbridge has got this front fully covered with its visual command centre through a single screen display that aggregates and curates data feeds from 22,000 different sources. This command centre enables mapping all the assets and resources of a company and gives real-time updates during a critical incident.

Once a crisis has been deemed in place, the fully digitised crisis management process takes over. Predesigned protocols and workflows, capable of managing a variety of stakeholders simultaneously, are activated. The digital suite assumes control to manage and execute the CEM solution for a country or an organisation. Additionally, Everbridge uses 100 different communication modalities to help communicate, inform and stay connected to people during a crisis.

On the issue of growth opportunities for critical event management solutions, David shared that they are seeing an acceleration in this direction. Currently, critical event management is a top priority of leaders in governments and corporations globally.  Many countries in the Middle East, Africa, Europe and Asia have already deployed solutions to strengthen citizen safety.

Norway is a good example of this. It uses Everbridge solutions to give live COVID-19 updates to all its residents and visitors without any congestion.

With economies and lives at stake around the world, Everbridge is seeing the public and the private sectors teaming up to keep citizens and employees safe.

About Everbridge’s contact tracing mechanisms, he shared, “We have a very differentiated approach on contact tracing. We are able to leverage our 225 pre-existing integrations for corporate customers. For example, as employees come into work, we can integrate our CEM platform with thermal scanners for taking an individual’s temperature.”

Smart cities deploying CEM solutions is a major priority for Everbridge as well. They are highly focused on investing in this area to help city leaders better track vulnerabilities, have better situational awareness and the ability to curate data –using IoT devices. Everbridge has even launched an extension called CEM for IoT to their existing platform.

In conclusion, David revealed one of Everbridge’s current initiatives of organising a series of webinars and symposiums that bring together world leaders and health experts from agencies responsible for coronavirus response as a part of their ‘COVID- 19 Road to Recovery’ campaign.

They plan to get some concrete solutions from this caucus of thought leaders and cutting-edge practitioners that will steer the world on the road to recovery.

You can watch the interview highlights here.

The entire interview is available on our Youtube Channel. Watch Part – 1 and Part 2 to get the most from these insightful interactions.

When cities, states and countries are struggling to respond to multiple critical events, robust public warning systems can be a lifeline for authorities in tackling them. At the same time, errors and loopholes in established systems and protocols can exacerbate the situation.

This is clearly exemplified in the California which, already struggling to fight COVID-19, has to deal with multiple wildfires ravaging the state simultaneously in different counties. The west coast wildfires that have painted the Californian skies an ominous hue have further threatened public safety and are creating a deep sense of panic among residents.

When the LNU Lightning Complex fire exploded over 36 hours ago, expanding from three burns across 12,000 acres to more than a half-dozen fires scorching more than 120,000 acres, parts of the Bay Area were knocked back on their heels.

Officials said, in Vacaville, where police, firefighters and Solano County sheriff’s deputies were evacuating people door to door in the middle of the night, someone had to go to the home of an Emergency Operations Center worker and wake him up because his cellphone had been set to vibrate.

In Napa County, emergency managers considered sending out a targeted Amber Alert-style message to cellphones telling residents to stay vigilant in case they needed to evacuate but ultimately had to use other means that potentially reach fewer people.

“During the construction of the message content, it was discovered that there was a software error in the system, so we instead issued our message utilizing the NIXLE alert tool,” said Janet Upton, a county spokeswoman.

And then there is Sonoma County, where, unlike three years ago when the previous emergency management director failed to alert some residents of a fire at all, the department’s current leader is concerned with having alerted too many.

“Using this system is like doing your taxes every time,” Chris Godley, Sonoma County’s director of emergency management, said of their alert software. “It’s a very challenging, technical process each time you do this, even though we’re relatively well-versed.”

“We didn’t expect the fire to come into our county the way it did,” said Solano County Sheriff’s Deputy Le’Ron Cummings.

Napa, Sonoma and Solano counties, among others, introduced high-low sirens, modeled after the European siren sound, intended to alert the public of an imminent disaster. All three also boosted public enrollment in their subscription-based alert system.

But possibly the most noticeable change was the use of the federal Integrated Public Warning and Alert System (IPAWS) and its Amber Alert-style warning, called Wireless Emergency Alert. For years the technology was notoriously avoided by emergency managers because its messages were considered too short to be helpful while often reaching too many people unnecessarily. Despite the system glitches the authorities in the county believe in the power of public warning systems during emergencies.

“It’s extremely helpful where you may not get tourists signed up for your local [program],” said Henry Wofford, Napa County sheriff’s spokesman. “Our whole purpose is to get it in their hands on their cellphones, in case they’re not at home, in case they’re in their backyard watering their lawns.”

Recently the country of Norway has also adopted a public warning system to alert citizens travelling internationally to mitigate COVID-19 risks. Country’s Directorate of health is utilizing the system to notify Norwegians’ of the changing threat profile and related safety protocols such as the related quarantine guidelines.

Critical event management has come to the fore with the pandemic. Forecasting, planning and management of critical events help organisations and authorities prevent disruption of life and damage to property.

Everbridge’s public warning solutions can make a significant difference in mitigating harm caused by such critical events. They provide richer intelligence and correlating threats with locations of assets and people ensuring more rapid and comprehensive incident assessment and remediation.

In coping with the current crisis, the need for accurate and actionable information is paramount for an effective response – but there has never before been a scenario like the current COVID-19 pandemic. In case of a critical event, whether it is an active shooter, natural disaster or pandemic, access to information is vital.

One crucial lesson that emergency responders have learned from simulations is that information is often too fragmented to provide actionable intelligence: the larger the incident, the more complicated it is to collect and assess information and coordinate a response.

There are, however, many tools available to tame this complexity for more rapid and effective response and to minimise impact on responders. These generally address four stages of response management.

In the first, they gather data from various sources to help assess the context and severity of a critical event, calling upon analytical tools to digest and correlate data to help response teams understand what is happening now and what could or will happen later. A second stage locates assets, employees or vital equipment. In a third stage, these systems offer emergency responders and organisations the tools to act by informing people of actions to take, mass-scale notifications for people in affected areas and tools for collaboration between response teams. The final stage enables responders and others concerned to review and evaluate the critical event so that future response can be improved.

Incident response management platforms are often homegrown among responsible agencies and organisations, but technology providers exist to support efforts. Some of these technologies consolidate functionality for all four stages into a single system. Everbridge, for example, began with a focus on multi-modal text messaging after the tragic events of 9/11 and expanded into a platform used in 2012 to notify 10 million people after Hurricane Sandy, and in 2013 by the city of Boston after the Boston Marathon bombings.

As reported, Increasingly these platforms are embracing IoT systems and devices, given the expanded capability among a wide variety of endpoints that responders can use to connect directly with critical information, guidance and communication with those affected by an emergency. In particular, IoT can play an essential part in the information-gathering process. In a 2019 study, the European Telecommunications Standards Institute (ETSI) examined the possibilities of the use of IoT in emergency situations and identified a number of use cases such as emergency calling, mission-critical communications for situational awareness or to protect responder personnel, essential logistics support public warning systems and automated emergency response.

In smart buildings and smart cities, sensors can provide details about temperature, toxic gases and other hazardous conditions. Smart streetlights can analyse traffic congestion and plan evacuation routes through AI analytics. Body cameras can relay live intelligence from public safety workers to the Incident Command Center (ICS), while crisis teams can use IoT wearables to warn and guide civilians.

Artificial intelligence technology is used in several ways to diagnose, respond to or predict coronavirus spread. The radiology department of the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, China, has modified its AI-driven software to detect cancer in CT lung scans to detect COVID-19-related signs of pneumonia.  This is to aid the overworked medics in triage, while in the United States, the Boston Children’s Hospital has created an AI-driven coronavirus map.

The Chinese search engine Baidu has made its Linearfold algorithm available to researchers and medical teams to fight the outbreak to assist in the analysis of the virus, while across the world researchers are turning to AI technology to predict its spread.

Even when everybody understands that it is vital to track data on people’s condition and location during the current times, but it has a definite privacy impact.

The privacy issues are relevant to technology providers, which also see a growing trend among companies that want to know which employee is in which location. In the case of the COVID-19 outbreak, employers may want to see which employee has been in close proximity to a person who has tested positive for the virus.

However, technology’s role in containing and mitigating the virus in the absence of a rapid and reliable diagnostic tool cannot be undermined. It lets governments respond and recover from the global pandemic which would have been a more herculean task than it already is.

Technology providers who are seeking to improve response, stewardship of sensitive data and transparency of processes moving forward must understand that establishing trust and confidence amongst people is of paramount importance.

Four White Papers have been published by the Global Digital Health Partnership (GDHP) of over 30 nations including Australia detailing what GDHP member countries are doing to deliver digital health services and improve patient health outcomes.

The GDHP is currently chaired by India. The Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India is the GDHP Secretariat Lead.

The Joint Secretary stated that sharing digital health information is now more important than ever as individual nations and the global community respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The White Papers will provide both participant and non-participant countries and territories with guidance on the key digital health enablers that can lead in improving the health and well-being of citizens at national and sub-national levels through the best use of evidence-based digital technologies, the Australian Digital Health Agency press release notes.

The reports provide insights, guidance and information on cutting edge digital innovation for digital health workers, governments and organisations providing digital health services, and the communities they serve across the globe.

They are a valuable source of information that provides a catalyst for positive change, with insights and international comparisons of our digital health systems with countries around the world.

One key trend of GDHP members’ digital health systems are efforts to empower citizens to have greater involvement in the management of their healthcare.

This is evidenced in Australia in statistics published by the Australian Digital Health Agency which show consumers are uploading and viewing more of their My Health Record documents.

The Chief Medical Adviser at the Agency and Chair of the Evidence and Evaluation workstream for the GDHP, Clinical Professor noted that the Agency had supported and led the development of the White Papers over the past year, working with more than 30 countries from around the world.

“International collaboration is critical to improving health outcomes for all,” she said. “Many countries and territories are still at the beginning of their digital health journey, so providing insights in key areas of common interest through our GDHP participation is fundamentally beneficial and supports our goals to improve health and well-being for people.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of international engagement, and the critical role that digital health technologies play in ensuring that people have access to their healthcare providers and services. Digital health has never been more important.

The Chief Medical Adviser highlighted Australia’s role in establishing the GDHP as the inaugural Chair of the partnership and host of its first summit in early 2018.

Since then the GDHP has benefitted from the opportunity to share valuable insights on digital health service delivery for citizens that have been informed by the cutting-edge work of GDHP participants around the world.

The National Coordinator for Health IT, US Department of Health and Human Services stated that “sharing information using health data standards for interoperability is necessary to advance public health reporting and research which are key parts of an evidence-driven response to pandemics.”

Now, more than ever, increasing collaboration and sharing best practices around the world, not just within countries and territories, is critical to advance interoperability together globally.

The Executive Vice President, Engagement and Marketing, Canada Health Infoway and Chair Clinical and Consumer Engagement workstream noted that over the last decade there has been a universal shift in thinking; one where there was little to no support for providing citizens with access to their information, to present day, where efforts to provide citizens access to information equitably and securely are being accelerated.

As governments around the world grapple with this new reality and citizens in many jurisdictions are asked to remain home for public health, it has never been more critical for citizens to access their health information remotely: wherever and whenever it’s needed.

The four GDHP White Papers are:

  • Advancing Interoperability Together Globally
  • Citizen Access to Digital Health
  • Benefits Realisation: Sharing insights
  • Foundational Capabilities Framework & Assessment

As the COVID-19 pandemic forced countries to lockdown and close their borders, most countries have been pursuing digital government strategies, many with innovative initiatives but globally, many people still do not have access to online services, according to the 2020 edition of the United Nations E‑Government Survey, released 10 July 2020.

The UN E-Government Survey, published by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, is prepared over a two-year period and looks at how digital government can facilitate integrated policies and services across 193 UN Member States.

E-Government Rankings Worldwide

The E-Government Survey examines countries’ strengths, challenges and opportunities, and informs policies and strategies. The 2020 edition found that progress has been made across all regions, even in the least developed countries. Over 22 per cent of countries were promoted to higher levels of e-government development.

The 2020 ranking of the 193 UN Member States in terms of digital government – capturing the scope and quality of online services, status of telecommunication infrastructure and existing human capacity – is led by Denmark, the Republic of Korea, and Estonia, followed by Finland, Australia, Sweden, the United Kingdom, New Zealand, the United States of America, the Netherlands, Singapore, Iceland, Norway and Japan.

Among the least developed countries, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Cambodia have become leaders in digital government development, advancing from the middle to the high E-Government Development Index (EGDI) group in 2020.

“The pandemic has renewed and anchored the role of digital government – both in its conventional delivery of digital services as well as new innovative efforts in managing the crisis,” said Mr. Liu Zhenmin, UN Under‑Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs.

In responding to the health emergency, governments have put in place new e-initiatives, such as dedicated COVID-19 information portals, hackathons, e-services for supply of medical goods, virtual doctor and hospital appointments and self-diagnosis apps.

Many countries were quick to deploy tracking and tracing apps, and apps for working and learning from home.

E-government digital divide evident

“While e-government rankings tend to correlate with the income level of a country, financial resources are not the only critical factor in advancing digital government,” added Liu Zhenmin. “A country’s political will, strategic leadership and commitment to advance digital services, can improve its comparative ranking.”

Although many countries have invested in e-government, the digital divide is still evident. Seven out of eight countries with low scores are in Africa and belong to the least developed countries group.

The regional average index scores for countries in Africa are almost one third lower than the world average EGDI of 0.60.

Pandemic highlights the importance of the role of Digital Government

The COVID-19 pandemic has now not only reinvigorated the role of digital government in delivering public services and in ensuring business continuity, it has also brought about innovative ways in managing the crisis, such as in contact tracing, e-health, online learning, and remote working.

As workplaces open and international travel resumes during the COVID-19 pandemic, workers and travellers may be required to provide proof of immunity as a condition of entry.

One of the options being considered by many governments is an immunity passport, which collects testing data and enables people to share their immunity status with an employer, airline or airport security.

Some governments have suggested that the detection of antibodies to the SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, could serve as the basis for an “immunity passport” or “risk-free certificate” that would enable individuals to travel or to return to work assuming that they are protected against re-infection.

The idea behind the digital “passports” is that they would allow people who have recovered from the coronavirus to signal their immunity and thus move around freely, enabling economies to open up.

Tech Firms Throughout the World Develop Digital Immunity Passports for Government

Estonia

Estonia has started to test one of the world’s first digital immunity passports, with countries including Chile, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States also said to be exploring the option.

UK

UK-based tech firm VST Enterprises said it has started shipping its digital health passport, Covi-Pass, to companies and governments in more than 15 countries including France, Canada and India.

IDnow, a German technology firm, has said it is in talks with the UK government for immunity passports.

IDnow, is a German identity verification start-up. The talks are aimed at creating a COVID-19 “immunity passports” for those who have recovered from the virus. The plan is to provide a technology that would allow employers to know who is “safe” to return to the office. It is also a technology that is likely to be used by airlines so that it can be sure that passengers are safe to fly.

Another firm that is offering its expertise to help the U.K. government design such a scheme is British startup Onfido, which last month secured $100 million in funding in part to help it develop its health certificate offering.

Chile

Chile’s Ministry of Health recently announced that it would issue “release certificates,” in the form of smartphone QR codes, to those who are 14 days clear of Covid-19 symptoms.

Firms are also developing their own systems including Bluetooth-enabled devices, and using artificial intelligence to track employees’ movements and social distancing.

Indonesia

Indonesia is considering an immunity or vaccination certificate, said Djarot Andaru, a researcher at the University of Indonesia who is advising the government on air transport protocol as travel restrictions are lifted.

Despite immunity passport raising concerns, Governments still keen to explore concept

Although the digital immunity passport raises a lot of concerns in areas of data privacy, data security and even if the concept will work effectively, it highlights how much Governments are keen to explore tech options to get their economies moving and to open their borders.

The coronavirus pandemic has been a sobering wake-up call to swiftly abolish corporate inertia plaguing critical event management.

COVID-19 has brought into sharp focus two primary goals – how to keep employees safe with minimal businesses disruption.

This was particularly telling in a recent high-level meeting with around 30 senior executives from major brands from Australia and other Asia-Pacific countries.

Only 7 per cent said they had a scalable solution to deal with the next critical event – bushfires, tsunami, terrorism, earthquake, flood or another economic or life-threatening situation – in a post-COVID world.

Yet, 89 per cent said critical event management was important to their business outcomes.

Most were in the dark and had no idea where to begin but all understood the dire consequences of doing nothing.

The current pandemic is an opportune time to ask if your organisation can quickly identify threats and assess the risk environment, then easily identify and locate the impacted people, assets, operational functions which could potentially be impacted.

It may be 2020 but many organisations still rely on a manual call tree to disseminate accurate information to ensure staff safety. This may be acceptable in small organisations but even they struggle to keep the basics, such as mobile phone numbers, up to date.

The process of managing a critical event is often very manual, even disjointed (some large organisations still have employee details spread across multiple Excel sheets and even in binders).

It’s often siloed using multiple applications, and it takes a significantly long time to work through. Why?

An organisation needs to know what’s happening and why it’s happening – what is the threat and the nature of the threat. What’s the potential impact? Is it related to physical security, inclement weather, or is it digital disruption due to a cyberattack or ransomware?

Is that an IT outage or application latency?

Is it a localised or national disaster?

How many different sources of data are being used to monitor threats? How effective are they and is any of it automated or filtered, and tailored to your specific business?

And can the sources of information be trusted?

Based on all that organisations need to understand and locate what and/or who’s impacted – their people, assets, and operational functions.

This is especially challenging if some staff members are on the move or the risk event is changing – as we’re faced with in the current pandemic.

Trying to correlate the two may involve accessing multiple systems and having multiple applications running at the same time.

How many different systems do you currently have that stores information about your people or assets?

And is this information integrated with your threat data to determine who or what might be impacted.

Before employees can safely to return to the office, organisations must have the capability to effectively respond to another wave or if a worker tests positive.

Critical event management systems can’t be a one-way street as staff need the ability to confirm, acknowledge or respond to alerts, information, safety check-ins, and questions or polls – no matter where they are or what device they use.

It’s time organisations stop outsourcing employee safety and well being to spreadsheets or pieces of paper. Drowning in data during a pandemic without a single source of truth will surely sound the death knell for any business.

Power generation is the lifeline of cities. All activities come to a standstill even when there is a temporary power cut.

And although electric power has made modern life so comfortable, it comes with a great cost to the environment.

Traditionally electricity generation takes place in fossil fuel/ nuclear power plants that have huge detrimental impact on the ecosystem.

In the process of power generation, these plants emit copious amounts of greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, sulphur dioxide) that degrade the air quality in the atmosphere.

The next innovator in OpenGov Asia’s Change Makers of Tomorrow series, came up with an eco-friendly method of electricity generation – from plants themselves.

Bioo is dedicated to generation of electricity from nature through unique technologies and patents of its own.

Pablo Vidarte, CEO, Bioo

Pablo Vidarte, the CEO of Bioo told OpenGov Asia that the journey began with a vision to use nature and its organic processes as the biofuel to power batteries of the future without harming plants or any other kind of living being.

Pablo and his team collaborated with university nanotech experts to work out a prototype that could successfully utilise the tech envisioned by them.

After almost a yearlong of trials they came up with a range of products that work on the unique Bioo technology.

Bioo currently has two major lines as a part of its current business model.

1) Bioo Installations: Installations that use the proprietary technology of transforming plants into biological switches that can activate music, lights, and even screens in public spaces, making them look more attractive.

2) Research and Development: The focus is on development of products by applying the Bioo and other complementary technologies within the scope of Intelligent cities and IOT.

Two products that are currently under development are:

  • Bioo Panel: A vegetal panel that is installed under the ground and that supplies power to lighting systems of parks and gardens. It enables constant electricity production during the day and at night along with saving up to 60% of irrigation water. Additionally, it is visually in line with the landscape.

  • Bioo Sensor: The innovation is an alternative to the current chemical batteries used in irrigation sensors in agriculture industry that need replacement every 6 – 18 months. Thanks to the large existing need for a solution, major firms in the sector are interested in such an application, with the global market being measured in 7.9 billion euros.

Bioo uses the organic substances that are present in the soil naturally as well as those expelled by the plants through the roots. Something that happens immediately after the photosynthesis process.

These organic substances are then broken-down using microorganisms in the soil which eat them. Once the organic substances are broken, they set electrons free along with hydrogen which is naturally released during photosynthesis.

These free electrons are then used to generate electric current. And the hydrogen merged with atmospheric oxygen is used to generate water. There is no damage to the plant in this process, and in fact, the microorganisms are fed and water is generated in the process of creating electricity.

Bioo plans to launch in Europe and USA first but also wish to create a presence in Asia especially in Singapore, Japan, and South Korea.

Pablo also shared that in future, Bioo will focus on creating products and installations for smart cities that consider plants as not just decorative objects but with a utility aspect as well.

Pablo and his team have been recognised for their sustainable, out of the box thinking at various platforms.

They were selected as the most innovative company of the year by the European parliament. They are also one of the top 59 finalists at the 10th Lee Kuan Yew Global Business Plan Competition.

Organised by Singapore Management University (SMU) Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship, this international competition is focused on urban innovations and solutions created by student founders and early-stage startups based on the theme “Reimagine, Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Cities”.

The top 59 finalists from around the world will convene in Singapore sometime second quarter of 2021, to compete for prizes worth up to S$1.5 million at the finals.

OpenGov Asia feels honoured to learn from the new generation of innovators like the Bioo team and hopes to encourage more innovative minds to think differently.

Singapore OpenGov Leadership Forum 2018

OpenGov Conference – A Gathering of Top Minds in Digital Transformation.