The discussion around the value of Critical Event Management for any organisation as well as the basics steps to take to put in place a successful critical event management plan and how that can be applied in situations like the global crisis we are facing now is of the utmost importance.
OpenGov had the opportunity to speak with Tom Pressley – Vice President International Marketing, Everbridge.
Everbridge’s mission is to keep people safe and help organisations avoid, reduce the impact of, and recover from disruption to operations when a critical event occurs.
The interaction focused on how current events such as COVID-19 or even the Australian bushfires have made Critical Event Management a priority for leadership in Governments and Businesses today.
Critical Event Management is an essential tool for future planning and business continuity but what is equally important is how that planning is communicated internally.
Research shows gaps in Communication in Critical Event Management
Everbridge recently conducted a survey of 9003 employees across 13 markets to explore how current trends and habits of communication can impact the success of a Critical Event Management (CEM) plan: What kind of communication is in place today from employers and governments? What are the preferred methods for communication? What is the level of trust and reliability for each of these channels? How best to implement and improve an organisation’s CEM plan?
Improving Communication to Successfully execute Critical Event Management plans
Most of the current industry research focuses on how these plans have been implemented and activated.
Everbridge recognised there was a gap and a need to understand how organisations could improve communications further to accelerate business recovery efforts. They wanted to explore the perception of the employees, use their insights to create a holistic picture of how the industry could improve, especially after the volatility of the past year.
Through this research, they found five prevalent themes: Employees are more disparate and diverse than ever. Targeted communications outweigh privacy and security concerns. Businesses are missing critical channels of communication. Employees expect more information; more often, the business can be the single point of truth for Critical Event Management.
How Employees Trust Employer Communication
“The survey painted quite an interesting picture. To summarise, it showed that people would look first and foremost to a government message but, on a secondary level, people don’t necessarily trust governments to look after their personal data. In fact, they would put their trust in an employer to look after their personal data and their personal information and contact details.”
The survey helped show how communication, when carried out in a clear manner, can activate employees in the organisation to help speed up the recovery through particular events.
“The report also showed that businesses haven’t really considered what is going to activate their employees to get them to do what is needed, at the time it needs to be done – because this will ultimately help recovery in a much more efficient manner.”
The report highlights the fact that a critical event management plan cannot be looked at in isolation. It is not just about having a communication mechanism. It’s about getting insights to help the organisation be more productive with the two key pillars – prescriptiveness and predictability.
Critical Event Management is an ongoing priority
“Going through this piece of research, the timeline (in the image above) is extremely interesting, especially from the perspective of foreign and international business that have offices in cities across the world. The slide demonstrates and highlights that, almost certainly, such businesses will have to deal with something somewhere every year.”
“A global business leader looking at this slide will be driven to get something in place. Leaders are talking about what happens post COVID-19, but bushfires are also a 2020 issue. This sort of impact is not just going to go away.”
Everbridge wants to try and highlight that; not just in terms of an incident timeline but what these incidents cost. The cost from a global economy perspective coupled up the individual costs from things like GDP.
The report concludes that although many organisations are starting to implement a CEM plan, most efforts are still quite immature. Lack of planning, hence lack of implementation, could lead to a longer, more expensive recovery.
“The reliability of any CEM is communication. Communication is as critical as the speed at which it’s communicated. The right approach is to have a flexible, multi-channel, dynamic plan, including frequent communications using the various channels depending on the impact and scope of the incident.”
1. Restricted Community Mobility (Best chance to beat COVID-19)
Keeping people at home is noticeably slowing the spread of the virus. The rates of infection in locked-down areas have slowed albeit not as quickly as desired in some places.
To help public health officials better understand the movement of people, Silicon Valley giants Apple and Google have begun releasing reports documenting relative changes in community mobility. These reports use anonymous locational data from their maps services to track daily changes in the movement of users against a baseline value.
Specifically, Google is using the average number of visits to places for each day of the week over a five-week period in January as its baseline. Crucially, visits to these places are aggregated by the type of establishment.
These tags present a key aspect of the dataset as they allow users to identify mobility trends by the category that a place belongs to. The data shows percentage deviations from the baseline in January, back when things were largely normal.
Things are hardly normal now. In almost every society, schools and workplaces are shut, while only essential services are allowed to carry on.
The World Economic Forum reported that nearly 3 billion people—close to half of the world’s population—have come under COVID-19 lockdowns. This number is likely higher now as the outbreak worsens and governments take even more stringent measures.
The dust appears to be settling in Western Europe however which was one of the first few regions outside China to be impacted by the virus.
As Spain and neighbouring countries begin to ease their lockdowns, it is worthwhile to take stock of the effectiveness of their safe distancing measures. A second wave of infections is upon us, as evidenced by ongoing events in Beijing.
In the above visualisation, it is not surprising that visits to grocery shops and pharmacies peaked before lockdowns came into effect, probably due to bouts of panic buying.
Potential uses of this data could include restocking supermarkets in advance to cope with a surge in demand or developing internet infrastructure to cope with higher demand from residential areas.
The right use of actionable data will help policymakers gauge the efficacy of their regulations. It can aid in the enforcement of lockdowns, as well as enable a targeted and phased reopening of the economy.
Both Apple and Google should be commended for their efforts in making anonymised data transparent and available for policymakers to gain valuable insights. We hope to see more such public interest initiatives in the future.
2. Costly Miss Explosion of cases in New York
If the state of New York were a country, it would have more COVID-19 cases (as at Mar 29, 2020) than any country other than the US. Such is the scale of the coronavirus situation in New York. T
he state has become the epicentre of the pandemic in America. Notably, the crisis and the ensuing lockdown caused a tussle between New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and US President Donald Trump.
Trump asserted that he has the ultimate authority to reopen the economy and Cuomo has refuted this claim.
Speaking in a CNN interview, he said, “If he ordered me to reopen in a way that would endanger the public health of the people of my state, I wouldn’t do it.”, referring to Trump.
The governor is looking for a phased reopening which may take months to complete.
The lighter colours in the visualisation above show forecasts that were made in mid-April using data available then. Unfortunately, New York’s recovery has not been as smooth as predicted here. A fresh spike of cases on April 25 has cast uncertainty on its future. This proves the difficulty of predicting the number of cases by fitting a simple model due to the numerous complexities involved in the spread of viruses.
Analysing the timeline of cases, as we go from each day to the next, the number of infections is multiplied by some constant. The spread of viruses is a textbook example of exponential growth because what causes the new cases are the existing ones. This is why we have put the y-axis on a logarithmic scale—each step of a fixed distance corresponds to multiplying by a certain factor. On this scale, exponential growth should look like a straight line. This straight line does not go on forever. It has to start slowing down at some point. The key question is when.
Owing to rigorous social distancing, it looks like New York has passed the peak, and the line of cumulative cases is slowly flattening. Now, governments worldwide are mulling over when to reopen their economy. Too early, and we could see another spike in infections. Too late, and the impact on the economy may be irreparable.
3. No Job – The New Normal
The impact of the pandemic on employment in unmistakable. As with recessions of the past, job losses were expected. What differentiates this downturn from any other is the enormity of these job losses. Instead of a gradual decline in economic activity as seen in business cycle depressions, business operations have ground to a halt, creating shockwaves in the national and global economy.
The current economic situation has been dubbed The Great Lockdown. A shutdown so fast and job losses so many have never been experienced before.
The above visualisation looks at the worst US job losses on record. These are measured over a four-week period. To account for population growth, the number of jobless claims as a percentage of the US population is also shown.
In case the true scale of this crisis not been emphasised enough, the number of job losses is about ten times higher than the average number of job losses in recessions since 1975. The number stands at a staggering 22.03 million, which is almost equal to the populations of middle powers such as Taiwan and Australia.
The recovery of jobs from the last recession was very slow. It took roughly ten years for the US economy to return to an unemployment rate similar to pre-recession levels.
Like other recessions, The Great Recession took many months to culminate. The current crisis is different in that businesses have been suddenly forced to pause operations. One can hope that businesses are able to stay afloat during this shutdown and rehire workers once normalcy resumes.
Besides temporary shocks, the pandemic will result in structural changes in the global economy. In the microeconomic context, it will expedite the adoption of technologies like e-learning and e-commerce.
Telecommuting will be normalised, and more firms will provide the option to work from home. Politically, this pandemic will test the effectiveness of various institutions and it could determine upcoming elections.
4. World Economy at Risk
The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) published an interim economic assessment in March 2020.
Importantly, it has revised its growth projections from November last year. In most countries, the growth adjustment is negative for 2020 but positive for 2021.
Mature economies like the US will take a slight hit in 2020 but will recoup their losses in the following year. Emerging economies on the other hand like India will be badly hit economically.
India has negative GDP revisions in both 2020 and 2021 and, as such, its recovery is likely to be slow. China, being the earliest to recover from the pandemic, will have the greatest jump in growth in 2021 at 0.9 percentage points.
Argentina’s economy was already shrinking and shocks from this pandemic will not do it any good. It is clear from this economic outlook that the timing of economic effects will vary across countries.
The GDP growth forecasts have been adjusted because the world economy is being buffeted by both demand and supply-side shocks.
Authors Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, Martin Reeves and Paul Swartz (2020) summarised three main shocks in an article for Harvard Business Review (HBR).
The first demand shock is an indirect hit to consumer confidence. Turmoil in financial markets has lowered household wealth.
Macroeconomics fundamentals tell us that this must result in higher household savings and less consumption. Advanced economies are more predisposed to this as their household exposure to the equity asset class is high.
Secondly, there will be a direct hit to consumer confidence. As consumers are forced to isolate themselves, they may reduce their discretionary spending and be less optimistic about the future.
Lastly, a supply-side shock results as the pandemic causes production to cease and disrupts key components of supply chains. This would lead to greater unemployment, but the effects would differ across industries. The crisis may not last long enough for this shock to be significant.
While the above data is useful, the authors of the HBR article warn against becoming too dependent on projections. Instead, leaders should look past the crisis, scanning for opportunities and challenges, and considering how they would address the post-crisis world.
What coronavirus could mean for the global economy. (2020, March 3). Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2020/03/what-coronavirus-could-mean-for-the-global-economy
Critical events are becoming more common for businesses to manage. From significant weather events, natural disasters and global pandemics, they create operational disruptions and have an enormous financial impact.
OpenGov had the opportunity to speak with Graeme Orsborn, VP – International CEM Business Unit, Everbridge, whose company mission is to keep people safe and help organisations avoid, reduce the impact of, and recover from disruption to operations when a critical event occurs.
The discussion revolved around the value of Critical Event Management for any organisation as well as the basics steps to take in order to put in place a successful critical event management plan and how that applies in the global COVID-19 crisis today.
Everbridge, Inc. is a global software company that provides enterprise software applications that automate and accelerate organisations’ operational response to critical events.
A report recently published by Everbridge explained how global health crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, crippled several industries from manufacturing to travel with the expected impact in the trillions.
Comparatively, the 2003 SARS outbreak had a 10-year impact on the Hong Kong and China economy and decreased the real GDP growth of all major economies. Coronavirus is expected to have a wider effect yet to be fully realised!
In light of these crises, the need to create a proactive and efficient Critical Event Management programme has become a top priority for all organisations regardless of size.
“Critical event management is the evolution of how to now manage critical events in a much more structured way for organisations. Historically organisations worked in a siloed approach – the business continuity team, instant response team, life safety team, HR functions, supply chain functions – all managing critical events but they weren’t doing it in a holistic fashion.”
Senior Management Looking at Critical Event Management as a Priority
Graeme explained that due to the increased occurrence of critical events in day-to-day business as well as those across the world, like COVID-19, along with rapid changes such as digitalisation, has made senior leaders look at Critical Event Management as a priority.
Management is changing and management is now being forced to change. This is now a board-level discussion. When looking at things like cyber-attacks that happen, or even currently, the change in the world where people are having to cope with new ways of working – these are bringing critical event management to the forefront.
There has been a huge evolution which has happened over the last 19 years; and there has been a huge change regarding culture. Bricks and mortar organisations, in comparison to online ones, have to adapt themselves because things have changed so quickly.
Prescriptiveness and Predictability
Graeme highlighted two keywords when talking about Critical Event Management – prescriptiveness and predictability.
“When we look at critical events, the key for every single organisation is how predictable can we be in regard to our response and how prescriptive can we make that.”
Graeme gave the example of a Chief Executive from a Finance Institute in New York who always believed that there was a potential adverse event that could happen to their location. Therefore, every single month they practised evacuating the building. He took the potential threat so seriously that the management went out and got everybody a pair of pumps which sat underneath their desk.
The key behind good critical event management is, actually, familiarity – which requires organisational change.
Quick Assessment & Action
This really the simple value proposition of critical about management is bad things happen to good things that people care about – that constitutes a critical event.
And organisations need to take action.
When we bring those two together, it’s really about understanding very quickly what the impact is – the assessment phase
After the initial assessment phase, organisations move into the action phase.
When organisations do an assessment, they have to determine whether it comes from a reliable source. What is the disruption? Where is it?
“It is amazing when we look at how long this takes organisations just to be able to assess the current incident that they are being alerted to.”
If the assessment cannot be done in a timely fashion, then it is no longer incident management – it transitions to recovery.
The recovery phase is how an organisation can identify or communicate to the correct people at the correct time during that incident.
Everbridge is seeing transformation because of how people are doing this; because of the companies that are doing it and the people that are being spoken to are seeing the value.
Identifying Pain Points Fundamental to Critical Event Management
For organisations who are starting to develop their critical event management plan, the Everbridge team shared that taking note of the businesses core pain points are the starting blocks to building a critical event management plan.
“Every single organisation is suffering from some type of incident every single day, and what we are focused on is Where is the most pain? We really try to identify where that pain point is coming from and how to best benefit business.”
It is imperative to have senior management buy-in because it is essentially the senior leadership team that has to drive the initiative. At the starting point, it is a value-add proposition for the organisation which is a senior management decision.
The Everbridge teams have to pick a painful experience that an organisation has experienced and one that the organisation is able to identify that they have faced some challenges.
The beginning phase is helping the organisation understand how Everbridge consolidates all of the alerts to their biggest challenges – this is referred to as alert velocity.
Everbridge has done a lot of different exercises for a number of different organisations where a simple thing such as the fire drill poses a huge issue because people actually don’t know who’s in the building at that time.
From an Everbridge perspective, in the fire drill scenario, they do that (determine who’s in the building) through connecting things such as the visitor management system and access control systems.
Using information from these systems allows them to have a unified data set immediately. This makes it so simple that when the organisation’s management team sees the data set, they get an overview immediately. And then they know the change(s) that need to be done.
These types of value-adds are what really drive the speed of response and also a culture change – because people understand the value of what Everbridge is doing.
COVID-19 highlights the need for Critical Event Management
When looking at the evolution of COVID-19 across the world, it seems that the world has learnt a huge amount. Going through the crisis has actually opened eyes in a much more stringent way.
This is giving people a huge amount of focus in regards to what they prepared to do – what they understand needs to be done to be able to respond to the next event.
Graeme used the example to show how Taiwan has coped with COVID-19 after being traumatised by the SARS experience.
On the very first day Taiwan got the news from Wuhan, they applied everything that they learned from SARS. At the time the count of cases in Taiwan was less than 400, and the number of casualties less than 10.
Taiwan has never gone under lockdown, and are informing their population on a very regular basis without any alerting fatigue.
From their experience with SARS, they have defined a set of best practices, which is independent of the World Health Organization.
Taipei is the capital in the world that is the most prone to earthquakes, typhoons and potential invasion by China. So there is the super preparedness, not only from the government but also from the mindset of the people.
They have started wearing some masks from day one without it being imposed, knowing that this is to protect others and not to protect themselves.
The government had taken measures but not total measures to disrupt the flights from mainland China immediately and especially from Wuhan.
It is possible to convince people to adopt best practices and hopefully with software that supports these best practices at the government level and at a company level.
Graeme also told of another learning to come from the current global crisis, which is the danger of misinformation, lack of strategy and communication.
The biggest education is in the absence of a transparent strategy there is an information vacuum. People will make their own decisions or will seek out information themselves from the easiest sources – which tend to be online social media.
They will come to their own conclusions about what they should do next and that is a more frightening danger than a government coming up with an incorrect strategy.
At least if it’s a strategy, you have everyone pulling in the right direction or at least a single direction. If you have that lack of information and sort of feel that some of the countries in the world are sorted out on this teetering edge unless those strategies are made clear very, very quickly.”
This leads us to the second installment of our exclusive interview: How Communication is Key to the Success of a Critical Event Management Plan
18F is a digital services agency within the United States Government. The purpose of the agency is to deliver digital services and technology products throughout all levels of Government in the US. 18F partners with agencies to improve the user experience of government services by helping them build and buy technology.
Brian Whittaker has just completed 6 weeks as Head of the digital services agency 18F, within the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA). 18F operates inside of GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, and is part of the Technology Transformation Services, a service set up to innovate and improve government technology.
Brian’s role at 18F is not completely new territory for him as he has 10 years of experience leading IT transformation projects across the government. Previously he had been the Deputy Director at the Centres of Excellence, another IT modernization initiative within the Technology Transformation Services at the General Services Administration in the US.
Now he is heading up 18F, the digital consultancy with approximately 100 federal employees and projects spanning multiple partner agencies.
OpenGov had the opportunity to speak with Brian this week regarding his role, goals for the immediate future, the unique role of his agency within the government, as well as the unique business model of his agency within the government, providing government services for a fee to other government agencies.
Solidifying Business Operations and Refining Culture
In his new role, Brian said that for the remainder of 2020 and throughout 2021 “the goal is to mature as an organisation” by focusing on key priorities.
One priority is to focus on solidifying business operations by looking at ways to make it easier for agencies to engage with 18F, and to provide greater impact for partner agencies, and ensure that 18F services align with what they do well.
They also aim to provide greater impact by not only assessing how they operate internally but also how and who we partner with to make a more successful partnership.
“This year the intention is to form greater partnerships in the civic tech space and bring the strength of 18F’s network to solve the most complex challenges of our partner agencies.”
Another focus area for Brian in his new role is culture. He acknowledges that 18F is successful because of its people, that people come to work at 18F because of how they work, the problems they solve, and the investment they make into culture.
This year they aim to increase employee engagement, working on making diversity and inclusion a priority, growing skills and expertise, identifying mentors, building peer networks, and pursuing projects that stretch their capabilities.
Agility is the way forward
Agile work is more multidimensional than flexible working. Instead of focusing on when and where people work, agile work focuses on the efficiency of the work.
It helps deliver change when requirements are uncertain, helps build client and user engagement by focuses on what is most beneficial, changes are incremental improvements that can help support cultural change. Agile can help with decision making as feedback loops help save money, re-invest and realise quick wins.
And Agile working is something Brian Whittaker fully supports. He believes in agile working due to scenarios such as huge contracts sometimes leading to tech being outdated by the time the contract is completed.
He added that if projects are carried out in a modular way, an agile way, you will get value sooner from your investment.
Key personnel could be in another role by the time job is complete.
An agile working environment ensures business continuity and adapts a get things done effectively and efficiently approach rather than waiting for approvals for longer-term contracts.
As agencies are forced to do more with less, this approach allows it to show results sooner.
Agile projects allow the government to measure success at more regular intervals and if necessary make course corrections. The ability to measure and adapt reduces the overall risk to the project.
Government Paid Services Within Government
One of the unique things about the 18F agency is that it is a government agency that charges other government agencies for its services.
When asked if this model works well in government at all levels Brian said that this model provides a good sense of accountability and responsibility of the service you are providing.
In regard to the fee, he said it is a motivator to ensure clients get value. It also shows the level of commitment. It solidifies that both parties are invested in the project.
In response to how the agency overcomes resistance to their involvement in other agency work, he said that 18F has a robust network and that there is something to be said when you are in the trenches with an agency.
18F has the benefit of having relationships and past experience with other agencies to prove that they are successful. He said that it is much more powerful to hear success stories from partner agencies. Due to the nature of their work, they are always able to bring people together from all over government.
18F is currently working on multiple projects, they include platforms data.gov and Search.gov. Web hosting –Federalist which provides web hosting capability, scalability quickly, it can cope with large influx of hits and visitors without crashing – a lot of government transformation sites are hosted on it
Cloud.gov is another one, a platform that gives government teams the ability to develop, run and manage web applications without the complexity and cost of building and maintaining infrastructure.
Recommendations for Transformation leads and Agencies
Brian has a few recommendations for those leading transformation projects or for agency leads wanting to upgrade their technology or buy new technology.
Before embarking on sourcing new technology, he recommends researching tools that already exist and are out there, this will allow agencies to get a leg up very quickly without a whole new procurement process. There are a lot of advantages to not having to start from scratch when there are readily available open source tools.
Another key recommendation is to focus on service design – sometimes agencies put the focus on a specific tool than the people who will use it.
Upfront there should be a clear service model programme, IT and Acquisition should understand the service or develop a tool to adjust a process they already have.
HR and Acquisition team should be involved from the beginning. The right people need to be in place to manage the project.
For anyone involved in these government transformation projects he also said that focusing on continuous learning, being resilient and getting to know the owners of the processes will help in the transformation journey.
With the largest particle accelerator in the southern hemisphere, Australia could hold the key to fast-tracking the development of a vaccine for coronavirus.
Called Synchrotron, the particle accelerator allows researchers to see the structure of key proteins in a virus and how they interact with other molecules. This ability will be extremely advantageous in the development of a vaccine or treatment regimen.
In getting a sound understanding of the positions of critical components of these proteins, companies can develop drugs that bind to these proteins and potentially prevent or treat disease.
“You need to know what the protein looks like so you can design a drug to attach to it,” Synchrotron director Professor Andrew Peele said. “It’s like designing a key for a lock, you need to know the dimensions of the keyhole.”
While many proteins in the virus have already been mapped, researchers from Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation are constructing molecular structures of COVID-19 proteins. Once established, the clear 3D image will be made available to other coronavirus researchers.
In the meantime, the British Government aims to have millions of rapid detection coronavirus tests available in pharmacies and online stores. These tests can detect coronavirus antibodies from a self-administered finger prick.
Researchers at a leading university are completing work on a new test that can detect whether someone has already beaten the virus.
While the test does not detect whether someone is currently infected with the virus, it can determine if a person has already had the virus and recovered.
Initially, the tests will be reserved for hospital patients, health care staff and other essential workers, but will eventually be available for the general public to test themselves.
The tests are aimed at detecting which people have already had coronavirus and recovered from it so that they can return to work and go back to living their lives.
Japan is also driving efforts team up with unlikely partners to develop drugs that could cure COVID-19 patients
Japan’s health minister, Katsunobu Kato, had enlisted Fujifilm, a camera and imaging company, to help fight COVID-19.
Kato hopes to use an existing drug could be used to treat patients. One candidate was an anti-influenza drug, which had been developed decades earlier by the Fujifilm subsidiary Toyama Chemical.
Working incessantly, the team drew up contingency plans for ramping up production of the drug, coordinated with clinical researchers throughout Japan and aided in getting the drug to hospitals where its use had been approved by the government as an emergency measure to treat dozens of COVID-19 patients.
While there is not yet any detailed data supporting the drug’s effectiveness as a COVID-19 treatment, there are some reasons for optimism. At least one of the clinical trials will conclude at the end of June and will provide much-needed data.
While most countries have imposed versions of a lockdown, they are also exploring every avenue that could lead to a diagnostic, treatment and/or a vaccine.
Countries across the world are working overtime to get solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic deploying technology and tool as best they can.
Global organisations and Governments worldwide have developed apps to give citizens COVID-19 updates, situation reports, health risk assessments, a tracker of the spread of the disease throughout the country as well as the rate and numbers of infected.
The Value in Apps is the Functionality to Contact Trace
These apps have been available pretty much from the beginning of the outbreak but what is taking a little longer to develop and release to the public; and where the value lies in helping the authorities to slow and manage the spread of the coronavirus, is the functionality to contact trace.
An increasing number of Governments are preparing to release contact tracing apps to help quickly identify individuals who have been exposed to the virus and to contact them immediately in a bid to stop further spread of the virus.
Contact Tracing apps are considered key in helping governments flatten the curve of the virus spread.
Traditional Contact Tracing Methods are too Slow and Transmission of the Virus is Fast
One of the main reasons Governments are keen to introduce a Contract Tracing app to the public is that traditional contract tracing methods are too slow. Transmission of the virus is fast, while many of the infected do not show symptoms straight away, by the time authorities have identified those who have been exposed, they have already transmitted the virus to others.
Traditional contact tracing methods are labour intensive, using resources that could be better deployed elsewhere during the pandemic, this includes coveted resources such as hospital staff, health officials and police services.
Contact Tracing using a smartphone app is more accurate – traditional methods of tracing rely on the memory of those who have been infected. Human error is only natural, and remembering exact times and locations is not always easy, especially if unwell or perhaps not able to respond to investigative questioning on past movements.
Data from apps would provide an extensive log of the patients’ past activities, exact times and locations and with its Bluetooth capabilities then identify those who had been in their vicinity and how long they would have been exposed to them. It would also make contacting exposed individuals much easier and quicker.
Although the benefits are immeasurable to protect public safety, it has raised questions about personal data, privacy laws and government surveillance on its’ citizens. Most governments have taken the approach that it is an ‘opt-in’ resource, urging people to join in a collective effort to help their country and their people.
Singapore Contact Tracing – leads by example
Many countries are following the model Singapore has used. The government launched an app called TraceTogether on 20 March and already has over 910,000 users.
The TraceTogether app uses Bluetooth signals to determine if an individual is near another TraceTogether user. The Bluetooth proximity data is encrypted and stored only on the users’ phone. The Ministry of Health (MOH) will seek consent to upload the data if needed for contact tracing.
Singapore has made its COVID-19 contract tracing app open source to help developers around the world to build local solutions. And many countries are doing just that.
Countries inspired by Singapore Aim to Launch Contract Tracing App as Soon as Possible
Malaysia and Australia have openly said they are interested in replicating an app similar to Singapore’s TraceTogether app.
According to the Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation Khairy Jamaluddin, Malaysia is currently preparing a smartphone application to track citizen movements.
The federal government in Australia launched a COVID-19 app last weekend, without contact tracing functionality, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said that they are working on this capability. It is thought that there may be an app with contact tracing functionality launched this week as the government have been briefed by a private-sector group which have developed an app called ImpactApp.
The National Health Service in the UK is in talks to roll out a smartphone app that instantly traces close contacts of people carrying the coronavirus and advises them to self-isolate. The app, developed by NHSX – the health service’s digital transformation body along with academic and industry partners is in advanced stages of evaluation and they are hoping to deploy within weeks.
Germany also hopes to launch a smartphone app within weeks to help trace coronavirus infections, with the aim of adopting an approach similar to that of Singapore, an effective app that does not invade people’s privacy or break European privacy laws.
With digital contact tracing becoming a more important priority to the government, as well as being an integral part of the government strategy to combat this pandemic, these smartphone apps could lead to a substantial number of lives being saved and critical to protecting public safety.
Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Mr Heng Swee Keat, participated in the G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting on 23 March 2020. This meeting was the first of its kind as it was held virtually due to the global Coronavirus crisis.
G20 ministers of Finance and central banks governors have agreed on measures to reduce the repercussions of the coronavirus on the global economy.
G20 Finance Meeting Held Virtually
The video conference was co-chaired by Saudi Arabian Finance Minister, Mr Mohammed Al-Jadaan, and Governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, Mr Ahmed Alkholifey.
G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors discussed a coordinated international response to address the COVID-19 pandemic.
International Co-operation to Protect Economies Worldwide
Mr Heng Swee Keat said that “the stronger the measures to contain the pandemic, the more severe the impact on our economies.”
“We must be prepared to take short-term pains to avoid bigger losses and within each country, we will need to use fiscal tools to preserve jobs, help companies with credit facilities, and support vulnerable households. We can learn from one another.” said the Singapore Deputy Prime Minister
The Minister also called on the G20 to show a sign of unity in tackling COVID-19, and to co-ordinate international fiscal and monetary measures to help the global economy recover.
The meeting discussed methods that can be adopted to intensify efforts of bilateral and multilateral lenders to address the risks of debt sustainability, especially in low-income countries.
Leaders to reconvene to discuss Coronavirus action plan
The leaders also agreed to adopt additional measures to support the economy during the current crisis and prepare for the period afterwards, in addition to developing a joint action plan to respond to the pandemic repercussions.
Leaders from the Group of 20 major economies will reconvene by video conference on Thursday to discuss the coronavirus epidemic.
As governments work around the clock to try and stop the spread of COVID-19, they are using all resources possible, turning more and more towards technology solutions to speed up their efforts in battling the spread of the virus. This includes large surveillance networks, mobile phone tracking, accessing and sharing health records, AI and facial recognition.
Tech Solutions to Beat Coronavirus raise Data Privacy Concerns
Although these efforts are being used for public health and safety, and it makes sense for Governments to use everything possible to fight this virus, it does raise concerns about data privacy.
Some of those tech solutions being implemented have a direct impact on people’s privacy. In certain cities, the entire population is under intense surveillance, while in some places the medical data of those infected with the virus is being shared between organisations and countries. It’s a fine line between using data for good and infringing on personal data rights.
Surveillance: external monitoring and personal data
Cameras or drones monitoring or ensuring people stay at home, tech solutions to screen crowds for people with elevated temperatures, facial recognition technology to track activity and movement are all ways governments are trying to curb the spread of coronavirus.
It is not just external sources that are being used for surveillance, governments are looking at citizens digital footprints to track their activity from their credit cards activity or tracking their movements from their smartphone data.
Governments all over the world looking to mobile data to help combat COVID-19
Singapore Government has launched a contact-tracing smartphone app last week to help identify those who have been exposed to the coronavirus and to aid contact tracing nationwide
BT, owner of UK mobile operator EE, is in talks with the UK government about using its phone location and usage data to monitor whether coronavirus limitation measures such as asking the public to stay at home are working.
Similar measures have already been carried out much further in South Korea, which has used apps to monitor the spread of the disease.
Israel also recently passed an emergency law which allows the government to track the spread of the virus using data from mobile phones.
Government Data Usage needs to be transparent-
Privacy and data protection laws cannot and should not get in the way of government strategy to saving lives. But even at times of crisis, data privacy should still be respected, and frameworks put in place for emergency situations like this and for also what happens once the crisis has been resolved. This should be clearly communicated to all citizens to maintain government transparency and trust, and good government-citizen relationships.