The biggest challenge in emergency management right now is coordination. There are many players in an emergency — different agencies, NGOs, and community groups. They're all doing great work and they're all essential, but they can't operate in isolation from one another. As emergencies grow more complex, the responses will too. AtHoc helps us navigate that complexity.
Grant Durfey, Former Emergency Management Program Specialist, Niagara Region Emergency Management
Before AtHoc: Lacking Common Training, Interoperability
Niagara Region's Emergency Management Department supports the response to threats such as severe weather, critical infrastructure disruptions, and hazardous materials incidents. In this capacity, it must contend with multiple challenges and roadblocks. A lack of interoperability was originally among the most significant ones it had to confront.
"Each agency had its own system," explains Former Emergency Management Program Specialist Grant Durfey. “It was expensive and limiting — it made knowledge sharing that much harder."
Activating the Right Communication Channels
To ensure better communication and coordination during emergencies, Niagara Region needed to consolidate. This realization led to the deployment of BlackBerry AtHoc. A crisis communications tool built for the public sector, AtHoc helps agencies more effectively prepare for, respond to, and recover from critical events. In Niagara Region’s case, both its EOC (Emergency Operations Center) and CERT use AtHoc for emergency activations. There are several additional divisions within the agency that also use AtHoc.
“Our security and customer service teams use AtHoc to relay pertinent security alerts to staff,” confirms Durfey. “Corporate communications is also working on deploying AtHoc for facility closures, and our EMS (emergency medical services) uses it to call in staff for emergency shifts.”
Getting Everyone on the Same System
Niagara Region initially purchased BlackBerry AtHoc in mid-2021. The organization did a joint purchase, supplying the solution not just for its own use, but for all 12 municipalities within Niagara. The deployment itself was incredibly simple to execute; moreover, most of Niagara Region’s staff were able to start using the platform almost immediately and without difficulty.
“One of the things that surprised us with AtHoc was that when it comes down to actually sending alerts, it’s very simple,” says Durfey. “We’re able to train multiple people in different departments and organizations to send alerts. With everyone being on the same system, we can share and help each other. The most common feedback we’ve gotten is that it’s very easy to use.”
The Right Messages, Right People, Right Time
“A lot of emergency management is coordination and communication between different bodies,” Durfey continues. “Being able to click a button and alert a predefined group of people eliminates a lot of our workload, and allows us to focus on other issues during a response.
“Overall, BlackBerry AtHoc has been very beneficial for us,” he concludes. “It’s uncommon for people to hold a dedicated emergency management role, so anything that helps maximize our staff time and efficiency is always something we’re looking towards.”