Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Crisis Response to Hurricane Sandy with Visual Command Center

Leading up to Hurricane Sandy’s landfall Monday many people were looking for guidance and Google’s crisis map became a popular destination to see not just where the storm was heading, but also very relevant data on the location of Red Cross shelters, evacuation centers, etc.  Individuals could not only gain information on what was happening or likely to happen, but they could also take prescriptive action to evacuate or get to shelter.

The business world corollary to this is our own Visual Command Center.  Built on the Visual Fusion platform, Visual Command Center is operations-based risk awareness and response software that visually consolidates all the relevant data—internal and external--that corporations and agencies need when confronted with a threat like Sandy.  After enabling the rapid identification of the data relevant to a particular threat, Visual Command Center then facilitates powerful interrogation of the risk as it relates to the people, assets, routes, areas of interest, etc. that the organization cares about.  Following this data investigation, users can then quickly initiate action, communicating out to the folks in harm’s way and/or reporting up to management on the status of employee safety, the level of exposure the threat represents, and the next steps that are being taken to mitigate the risk.

The images below walk through how Visual Command Center is used by many organizations for both crisis response and day to day operations in areas of physical security, logistics, supply chain, business continuity, and public safety.  Everything shown is out of the box and easily up and running within a week.

Here, Visual Command Center shows forecasts of Hurricane Sandy’s path from NOAA, the area of greatest risk, National Weather Service advisory areas, and the facilities and travelers of a fictitious business. 

Notice my chart of facilities showing the number of employees and amount of square footage.  This chart currently shows all facilities that are in my entire map view.

Since what I really want to know for my organization is which specific facilities are at risk, I can quickly narrow my view to only the ones that fall within the plume with just a click of my mouse.  My chart with employee count and total quare footage is automatically updated and I have a more precise view of our exposure as an organization.

However, Sandy’s forecast is oddly shaped the way in wraps around New York City, and it makes me want to be a bit more inclusive in whom I communicate my warning to and what I report up to management.  So to do that, I just select a handy draw tool and start to draw my own shape to add to the NOAA-provided  hurricane plume.

Once I complete my more inclusive drawing, my chart instantly updates and gives me a new aggregate employee count and square footage total.  These are a couple of measures of exposure that my management typically wants to know.

Now I want to communicate out to the Points of Contact (POCs) for each of the facilities threatened by Sandy.  I switch from the chart view of my facilities to a list view, and Visual Command Center has a button to email all those POCs.

Clicking the “Send Message” button launches a Microsoft Outlook email message primed with all the POC emails, and I’m ready to reach out.  Alternatively, I could potentially send texts, launch a Microsoft Lync group chat, or enact some other mass notification blast.

Now that I’ve reached out to the folks in harm’s way, I’m ready to report up to management.  Visual Command Center has a great reporting tool for this that’s ready to go out of the box.  I simply go into the Tools Menu and select the “Export to Excel” option.  We like to call this the Risk Report, and it pushes all the data that I’ve selected into a Microsoft Excel document.

Here is a quick view of the resulting Excel file.  An image of what I was looking at is embedded, and the number of “at risk” buildings, travelers--and anything else I wanted to list out--is automatically summed on the left.  The worksheet tabs below contain the detail for each type of thing I care about:  people, assets, supply routes, areas of interest, etc.  In this case it’s just buildings and travelers.

After my initial notifications and reports, I can now transition to ongoing monitoring and mitigation of the threat.  There are lots of different things I could do at this point in Visual Command Center, but let me just point out a couple.  The first is eyes on the ground.  Not only can I make all my facility cameras available to me through Visual Command Center, but I also have access to traffic cameras from TrafficLand as an out of the box part of the product.  These become incredibly valuable when I need eyes outside my walls, such as the situation with Sandy.  I can zoom into where Sandy is making landfall and check out what the cameras are showing.

Another valuable “feet on the street” view of what’s going on is available with Visual Command Center’s Twitter Visualization add-on.  I can do complex hashtag and key word searches against the Tweet stream to see, for example, all the Tweets within this area that mention “Sandy” or “hurricane”.  I’ve opened up my timeline to see when those happened as well as where.

Zeroing in on a local facility, I can focus on a ten mile radius try to get a sense for any immediate risk, such as if the term “looting” is showing up in any Tweets.

I can even run that Risk Report again to see all the Tweets in a spreadsheet view and report out to other folks if appropriate.

Our customers are using Visual Command Center and Visual Fusion in amazing ways.  It’s especially gratifying when they use them to keep people safe in situations like Sandy, and all the other crisis events that seem to happen almost daily around the world. 

Please let us know how we can keep making our products more impactful for real world use in future events like Sandy.

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