Is Timing Everything? Emergency Portals Seek to Fill Tragic Information Gaps

Article ImageOne of the immutable laws of life in the information age is that at certain times, in the wake of unsettling events, questions and concerns that we wrestle with on a daily basis become infused with more prominence, more pertinence, and a greater sense of urgency. Car accidents prompt talk of speed limits and seat-belt laws. Outbreaks of E. coli shine a bright light on food-safety issues. Ill-conceived words spoken into a radio microphone can trigger a national conversation on racism and the media.

It was inevitable, therefore, that the shock of the shooting rampage at Virginia Tech on April 6 would trigger discussions about all aspects of the tragedy across a wide spectrum of communities and industries. For its part, the information industry has been abuzz with talk of how technology can be used to disseminate information rapidly and efficiently to contained environments like college campuses in the event of an emergency. Companies across the industry are taking this opportunity to promote concepts such as collaboration, mobile, and search as solutions to these very topical concerns.

Viyya Technologies Inc. introduced an emergency-alert solution in late April that might be applicable in such a scenario. Viyya’s Emergency Alert Information Portal provides distribution of information—both routinely and, in times of crisis, in an emergency mode. 
Viyya CEO John Bay has 25 years of experience working in information technology for law enforcement agencies such as the FBI and the NYPD. He describes Viyya’s portal as a multi-level application. The first level centers around collaboration, providing access to general news, calendaring, alerts, notifications, evacuation plans, and security policies. This information is constantly available to all relevant parties; in the case of a college campus, students, administrators, faculty, and parents. The second level of the portal is an event-reporting system. In an emergency, there are mechanisms in place for security officers to report happenings and search databases for relevant information. On top of this level sit a document management system, which can be used for rapid analysis of archives, and a notification system to spread emergency alerts by email and text message.

The Viyya product’s core technologies include a proprietary “intelligence sharing” application—which can be utilized to monitor and share physical-security intelligence in dangerous or disruptive situations—and the Viyya search engine.

“In today’s world, our institutions face unique problems and challenges during a time of crisis,” says Bay. “Internet-related technologies can provide up-to-the-minute news of crises around the world at a moment’s notice, but do not necessarily provide information to those with the greatest need.”

Bay believes that it is the duty of the information industry to fill in the gaps by re-purposing technologies that are already widely used in enterprises. He goes on to say, “It would be naïve to believe we could ever stop these occurrences from happening, but the proper application of technology and a prepared information-response system, which includes alerts and notices regarding vital information, could lessen the impact of a crisis for everyone involved and, in some instances, keep a bad situation from becoming worse.”

Janus Boye, managing director of Boye IT and lead author of the Enterprise Portals Report, acknowledges that portals can serve as useful tools for emergency-alert purposes, but offers the caveat that many institutions may already have, in the portals they currently maintain, the capabilities that companies like Viyya are proffering.

“Recent investments in portal technology by many universities and colleges mean that most will already have a technology platform in place capable of solving what Viyya attempts to do,” Boye says. “Although one system cannot solve everything, assessing existing investments would be a good place to start.”

Bay explains that emergency-alert portals can be integrated into an institution’s extant portal. “Each application of the Viyya Emergency Alert Portal is web-based and can exist in a portlet,” he says. “Depending on what a particular school wants to do, the portal can be a subsystem that can be integrated into their current system. Or pieces of the technology can be instituted on a portlet basis.”

Boye urges caution when weighing whether to implement portal products like Viyya’s, even when high-profile events put added pressure on an institution to address perceived weaknesses. “Prospective buyers should evaluate their options carefully to avoid an early-mover disadvantage,” he says.

Any self-contained institution must necessarily prepare itself for a situation in which it will need to organize and disseminate information quickly and efficiently to a large number of people. Whether such institutions purchase a product like the Viyya Emergency Alert Portal or use existing applications, portals and other information industry tools will strive to help during emergency situations that no one ever hopes to face.