You’re responsible for recommending or choosing a mobile crisis management app for your organization. What should you be looking for?

If you’re at the point where you’re researching such an app, you’ve no doubt already laid the basic groundwork, and your organization is prepared to face a crisis:

  • You have a crisis plan in place.
  • You have a crisis response team at the ready.
  • You have a crisis spokesperson or two designated by the organization, and they have received media-training.
  • You may have even tested your plan and your team with a tabletop exercise, as you surely should.

 

But being as prepared as your organization possibly can be for a crisis also means having a mobile crisis management app.

This specialized software will be stored on each of your crisis response team member’s smartphones. It serves to alert each person on the team that an incident, a potential crisis or full-blown crisis has occurred. The app then enables the crisis team to work collaboratively to manage and end the crisis as quickly as possible with minimal lasting damage to the organization. Problem is, there are many such mobile crisis management applications to choose from, and not all apps are created equal.

To make an informed decision you’ll need some answers. But what questions should you ask?

 

10 critical questions you’ll need to make an informed decision on which mobile crisis management app is right for your organization:

1. Is the software intuitive and user friendly?

Active shooter? Fire? Your product has harmed a customer? IT security breach? Never underestimate the high stress a crisis team would be under when a major crisis strikes. 

That’s why the ease-of-use of the application is a vital consideration. You don’t want the pressure that the team is already under to be further intensified by them having to wrestle with software that’s not user friendly. Make sure you get a demo of the software and see if the app is intuitively easy to use and would require minimal training.

 

2. Can the app store my crisis plan so all crisis team members have ready access to the plan?

The app has to be able to store your crisis plans and procedures so it’s always readily accessible to all crisis response team members on their phones whenever and wherever they need it. This capacity should make hard copies of the plan unnecessary except for backup.

Unlike a hard copy, your crisis plan can have within its table of contents hyperlinks to take you instantly to the pages you’re in need of. The phone app should make your crisis plan much more interactive, dynamic and effective than a hard copy. With the crisis plan in their pockets, your crisis team members will be able to respond to a crisis with far greater efficiency than if they had to first locate and then wend their way through a 50+-page, hard-copy crisis plan on short notice.

3. How well can the crisis management app mobilize a crisis response team and track who is doing what in the crisis response/management?

You want an app that enables your organization to virtually assemble its crisis response team, typically along the lines of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Incident Command System while being in close contact with anyone on the front-lines of the crisis response. Make sure that the app can make any designated user part of any given response process.

The application has to be able to eliminate the need for a shared physical location, because it’s almost a given that at least some members of the crisis team will not be in the same location when the crisis strikes. The app has to be able to make the Incident Commander’s post, its Command Staff and people on the front lines of the crisis operate together seamlessly, especially when they’re not physically in contact. 

Management of the crisis must not in any way be hampered because team members are travelling for work or are on vacation in a foreign country. In a crisis the app must work to keep all crisis team members on the case — a portable/virtual system enabling near-real-time tactical management of any situation no matter where team members may be.

Look for an app that enables your crisis team to communicate its directives and enables two-way interactions with tactical operators on the front lines. It should give the crisis team the ability to easily make and track role-based assignments with anyone connected to the crisis and with maximum transparency and accountability.

4. Can the app enable exchange of crisis-related photos, videos and other media?

The ability to exchange crisis-related photos, video and any other media should be part of the core functionality of the app. Imagine an organization’s remotely located facility has been flooded in an extreme weather event.

A person on the ground in a remote location can take a series of photos and videos of the flood waters’ changing levels within the facility and instantly send them to the crisis team who can track the flood levels in real time.

5. How well does the app handle documentation of the incident?

Thorough documentation of the crisis is important for many reasons, including…

  • You track who has been assigned to what actions and when those actions are to be completed.
  • You maintain a comprehensive record of all the actions taken in managing the crisis.
  • The App’s record is an invaluable learning tool for drawing lessons from the crisis after it’s resolved. Based on the detailed documentation you can prepare an After Action Report (AAR). The AAR assesses the effectiveness of the plan and your crisis team’s response. Improvements can then be made based on the AAR.
  • Accurate documentation of the crisis and its management could be necessary if there are legal issues in the wake of the crisis.

The best crisis management apps today automatically (and painlessly) record every action by every person associated with the response. These actions could be stored in the form of texts, emails, phone conversations in both audio and transcription forms, etc.

6. Can the app add people to the Incident Command post in situations where you need to form a Unified Command, e.g., with local law enforcement or fire department?

Any app worth its salt should be able to seamlessly notify and invite anyone with a smart phone, inside or outside your organization, into the virtual team or even be brought in to be made part of a Unified Command of the crisis. 

A Unified Command would be necessary in many kinds of crises, for example, where first responders are working closely with members of your organization. This would be the case if there were to be, say, a terrorist attack against your organization requiring law enforcement’s involvement or a big fire requiring a local fire department’s help. Or, the app could be used to bring in outside consultants such as security personnel or IT experts as needed. Check to see that the app is able to grant varying degrees of access to invitees or entire groups of invitees as warranted. Check to see if the app allows for the option of selecting invitees as read-only observers, so they’re kept informed but are not able to participate actively in the response.

7. Can the app provide accountability of staff who may have to be evacuated?

A mass notification tool is a different animal from a crisis management app, so it’s important to look for a crisis management app that integrates smoothly with a mass notification app. But, even without a mass notification app, the best crisis management apps have some version of a roll-call function so you could account for the safety of individual staff members who may have been evacuated from, say, a fire or a bomb threat.  

8. What if there’s a power outage or cell towers are down? Does that make the app dead in the water?

The issue of what happens to a mobile app if there were to be a power outage or loss of cell connectivity is important to explore. Look for an app that ensures that if a phone loses connectivity, the user can still work offline and then, when connectivity is re-established, all activity is synchronized, updated and automatically well-organized. 
9. How does the app handle conference calls among crisis team members?

Choose an app with a robust conference calling feature. The conference call feature of the app is a great alternative to 2-way emergency radios, not a replacement, especially since walkie talkies don’t rely on cell towers. But 2-way emergency radios have disadvantages. They are not private, so anyone can listen in to the conversations if they find the frequency. Two-way emergency radios also have limited range. Most important, radio conversations cannot be documented and made part of the record of the crisis as can the conference call feature on a crisis management mobile app.

A crisis management mobile app’s conference calling feature is private. Look for an app that lets responders join a conference call with one tap, and one that can automatically record and transcribe the entire call in order to maintain comprehensive documentation. The app should be helping you conduct tasks, share other information, and communicate via voice seamlessly and painlessly, with the highest level of information capture to serve after-action analysis/improvement.

10. Can the crisis app be used during crisis simulation table-top exercises?

It’s important to be able to use your crisis app during exercises to get the team familiar with its many functions, so make sure your app can be used for training purposes. And, of course, just as in an actual crisis, members of the crisis team being trained would not need to be in the same room or even the same country. 

 

Decision Time

Getting answers to these ten questions will give you a lot of information on which you can base your final decision. Naturally you’ll be interested in price and customer service as well. But understanding the capabilities of the apps you’re researching and comparing those capabilities to the needs of your organization will be your first step.

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