As we embark on the long-haul journey to distribute the COVID-19 vaccine to all Americans, addressing the communication challenges of this distribution has never been more vital for safety and coordination, says David Wiseman, Vice President of Secure Communications at BlackBerry. Here, we talk to Wiseman about the need for unified communications as states implement vaccine rollout strategies. 


Security: As states look to implement vaccine rollout strategies, is there a need for unified communications for safety and coordination? 

Wiseman: BlackBerry’s experience working with governments, businesses and humanitarian relief organizations around the world has taught us how essential it is for organizations in mission critical settings to have a trusted and unified system to communicate and collaborate in times of crises. Whether it be working with local governments to issue public alerts and warnings in the context of a wild fire, as we did with California’s Contra Costa County, or working with the American Red Cross to effectively respond to disasters, a secure, unified and resilient communications system is essential. This is also the case for the roll-out of a complex vaccine distribution program. A unified communications system will help authorities coordinate and increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the vaccine distribution program. Moreover, it is useful for issuing critical alerts and conducting rapid surveys in situations that are fast evolving and fluid.


Security: What technologies are critical to keeping federal, state, and local officials efficient and alert through the vaccine distribution? 

Wiseman: There are indeed a number of communication technologies that can be easily applied to augment existing plans and increase their effectiveness. A basic tenant for technology adoption, however, would have to be the ability to link multiple government systems with those of private enterprise and civil society organizations to enable collaboration and communication without having to make changes to their existing communication infrastructure or to provision any outside members within their networks. This is important because relevant technologies need to be capable of extending these information flows across a wide variety of channels including email, SMS, phone, Apps and private social feeds in a consistent and efficient way. Beyond just one-off communications the ability to setup operations information workflows that are tailored to local plans can assist in reducing omissions, latency and errors in plan execution. Finally, the ability to have the system engage with the public in a way that protects privacy and delivers approved information in a consistent manner is important. Options could include resident opt-in to different channels or by pushing alerts in a way that does not require the public to share personal information. The technology should enable distribution through multiple channels including social media, digital signs, radio, tv and other public announcement channels. 


Security: What are best practices on how to disseminate information quickly, especially during times of uncertainty?  

Wiseman: Even though it is 2021, the reality is that many entities still rely on old-fashioned “solutions” like call-tree lists to disseminate information. The idea of contacting all employees in the middle of the night through daisy-chained phone calls is incredibly inefficient and prone to failure. While this is a more extreme example, it is meant to illustrate the point that a clear and efficient communication solution is crucial to effective decision-making and to protecting people and assets in today’s increasingly complex world. Companies and institutions that implement an Emergency Mass Notification System (EMNS) are far more effective and efficient in communicating warnings and instructions to their employees, stakeholders or constituents during an event or crisis. Instead of relying on one method of communication—an EMNS can deliver information simultaneously over various media and platforms in multiple formats to ensure maximum exposure and impact.