Crimes, crises and dangerous situations are on the rise across the United States. Homicides have spiked over the past year, and a 667% increase in spear-phishing attacks alone since the start of COVID-19 — along with recent weather and climate crises nationwide — are just a few examples of the alarming instances security leaders are seeing.

These developments and more have made effective crisis management paramount as first responders, security experts and government agencies look to keep their communities safe and secure. A step in accomplishing such is communicating and sharing intelligence effectively and in real time, which can help better inform security teams and increase efficiency in crisis management.

The problem with information sharing is that many in the public sector lack these abilities due to legacy technologies, which can hinder response strategies and execution. These complications can be mitigated by implementing communication platforms that allow for instant collaboration, agency interoperability and enhanced security and compliance.

Each of these benefits can play a vital role in improving crisis management in the public sector:

1. Instant collaboration

Today, communicating in real time can seem mundane, with the many ways we already can interact via smartphones, laptops, tablets and various applications and software. Unfortunately, many in the public sector still utilize traditional communication methods like email, which hinders the chances to collaborate instantly and effectively in a time of need.

Not only can traditional methods be insecure, but they can also be slow, littered with irrelevant content, or even ignored if not seen immediately. This ultimately hinders the chances to collaborate instantly in a time of need.

Utilizing instant communication tools that are available on mobile apps, as well as on laptops or desktop computers, presents one opportunity overcome this challenge. Today, 72% of first responders use mobile devices in their everyday operations, which highlights how important it is to have compatible technologies available and the impact they can have in the management of crises.

2. Agency interoperability

Along with adopting instant communications platforms, agencies and departments should look for tools that allow them to communicate with other agencies and first responders no matter the devices or network they use — also known as interoperability.

Collaborating across devices and networks is becoming incredibly important with more wide-scale crises and disasters occurring today. In fact, roughly nine in 10 first responders surveyed in a recent Verizon study reported that the ability to communicate across agencies was “a critical concern” in their current line of work. Many first responders and government agencies still rely heavily on land mobile radio systems (LMRs), where interoperability still faces significant barriers when networks experience heavy traffic or are even dysfunctional.

With more public professionals utilizing mobile devices while on duty, applications and software enabling interoperability will become paramount in crisis management. Agencies and departments must do their due diligence and adopt adequate technologies.

3. Enhanced security and compliance

The advancements of communication technology have sparked the usage of public messaging applications — such as WhatsApp, GroupMe and Signal — and SMS texting among responders and their agencies. However, many of these apps and messaging methods are not compliant with regulations nor are they secure, making it easy for classified data and intelligence embedded in these programs to fall into the wrong hands. And as more of our devices are interconnected on Internet of Things (IoT) servers, and with the number of data breaches in 2021 exceeding the total of 2020, data and intelligence security risks will continue to be high with the usage of these communication tools.

Agencies should look for platforms that not only allow for real-time interaction, but that adequately secure sensitive crisis management data to fend off today’s intuitive hackers and data thieves. Tools like military-grade encryption, identity verification and multiple-factor authentication are features that should be considered in communication platforms.

It’s also essential that platforms are compliant with state and federal regulations to ensure legality in communications, especially during a crisis. Many first responders and public safety officials don’t understand that utilizing consumer messaging apps is illegal for work-related communications in government, as they violate federal and state public records laws and increase the chances of legal action against a department or agency. This is something that can be often overlooked, but it results in major consequences.

Technology has come a long way, and security leaders today are lucky to reap the benefits of such advancements to better their organizations in the public sector and better protect their communities. Now, it’s on leaders in the crisis management space to adopt the proper technology to allow first responders and security professionals to do their jobs to the highest level and ensure the security and protection of all communities from sea to shining sea.

This article originally ran in Security, a twice-monthly security-focused eNewsletter for security end users, brought to you by Security Magazine. Subscribe here.