London is one of the world’s economic powerhouses, and home to nearly 9 million people. Keeping those 9 million people and their businesses safe is a significant challenge. Terrorism, cyber threats and disruption to the city’s complex and aging infrastructure can all pose a threat to London lives and livelihoods.
However, there is one London area that is taking an innovative approach to resilience. Victoria is the first Business Improvement District (BIDs) in the UK to use a cloud-based crisis management software, YUDU Sentinel, to empower its member businesses. “We want to close the gap between a possible incident and the business decision makers,” explains Chris Tsikolis, the Head of Security and Business Resilience of Victoria Westminster BID. “We can largely achieve this by offering critical and timely information from a trusted source. Information is power.”
Closing that time and information gap is no mean feat for a BID, which are typically made up of a range of member businesses such as hotels, bars and restaurants, offices and every other type of organisation. “Each business has their own tools and platforms for communication,” explains Chris. “There are security officers with traditional radios, but not everyone has access to these. Redevelopment in Victoria with all the amazing architecture and tall buildings means that radio signal is not always reliable. So we wanted something that could cover a range of comms.”
One incident in particular jump-started Chris Tsikolis’ search for a crisis communications platform. An unexploded World War II bomb was found under Victoria Station during construction work. For several hours, people were being evacuated from the station without any information being given to the surrounding businesses, such as Victoria Nova or the shopping centre above the station. “There were cordons, but no information from the British Transport Police,” says Chris. “People were being pumped from the station to the shopping centre, who were sending people back to the station because they didn’t know what was going on. People were being sent back and forth because there was no communication.”
Luckily this incident proved to be a false alarm, but it begged the question: what if it had been a legitimate threat? “We needed to create an early warning system that worked as close to real-time as possible, rather than an email hours later. If a major incident happens, we need to be able to protect our assets, our buildings and, most importantly, our people.”
With a coach, national rail and underground station, Victoria is one of London’s busiest transport hubs for both commuters and visitors, with around 6 million people passing through it every year. If a major incident were to happen here, then it would very quickly become a big problem across the large swathes of the London transport network at best and put thousands of people in harm’s way at worst. Victoria needed an emergency mass notification system.
There are always challenges to consider when it comes to planning for mass notification: you need something quick and wide-reaching but without the potential for misinformation and hysteria that social media has; something that complies with GDPR (unlike WhatsApp); something that can withstand a cyber-attack or server loss that would cut off access to emails. But BIDs also have other unique needs that existing solutions do not offer. “We worked through a jungle of different providers. We were aware of the bigger American mass notification systems, but they were “off the shelf” solutions and we wanted to tailor the solution to our own individual needs. It had to work for all of our different business members.
“This meant that branding was important to us – we wanted white labelling so that it was a ‘Victoria Westminster BID’ system; we named it Victoria Emergency Notification System (VENS). Members all had their own business continuity documents and protocols, so they all needed to be able to upload the documents they needed, while we could still share documents with them, like advice from the Met Police and CPNI,” explains Chris.
This specific set of needs was what brought Victoria Westminster BID to YUDU. YUDU are a small app development business, who created YUDU Sentinel as a bespoke solution to a real-life crisis experienced by a London law firm.
“We’re using YUDU Sentinel to ensure that the right people get the right information fast, regardless of where they are. We have groups so that we send only relevant messages to each industry (e.g. alerts just for the pubs and bars about late night incidents) and we’ve succeeded in creating a system that has 24/7 capability by linking it to a government department which is based in our area. We can use push notifications to keep it alive in users’ minds, not wait for an incident for them to re-learn how to use it.”
Victoria Westminster BID have already had to use the system since rolling it out at the end of January 2019. A demonstration in Parliament Square caused widespread travel disruption – which the BID were able to warn all of their members about in a matter of minutes. “The feedback from everyone was really positive, and when the first alert came through people were saying “Look Chris! It’s alive!” In fact, we’re looking at using Sentinel as part of a BID security strategy in the future.”
Victoria Westminster BID have been successful in using technology to innovate new ways of keeping people safe in London. No other BID, in London or beyond, have invested in technology that gives them the level of communication and resilience that Victoria now has. With the UK’s terrorism threat at “SEVERE” and a police force under increasing pressure, Victoria Westminster BID’s preparedness and pioneering attitude to resilience has added immeasurable value for its members.
YUDU Sentinel is an app based crisis management platform in case of fire, terrorist and cyber attacks, or any other critical incidents. Crisis managers have immediate access to an independent two-way communication (SMS, voice, email and in app messaging) and can view and share key documents on mobiles. Sentinel is a cutting edge tool trusted by law firms, hotels, theatres and more. Find out more at www.yudu.com/sentinel or contact us on Twitter @YUDUSentinel.