Ensuring collaboration and security in disaster response situations
State and local governments expend significant resources planning for emergency situations and disaster response.
They train their firefighters, police and other first responders on how best to handle different types of emergencies and disasters. Multiple cities, counties or states will work together in joint efforts to build emergency operations centers that act as the central nervous system for a coordinated disaster response. They even implement advanced technologies – from big data and data analytics to video teleconferencing (VTC) – to help keep first responders and leaders connected and ensure that educated and informed decisions are being made.
All of these efforts are designed to help mitigate the damage of an emergency and ensure that the most human lives and properties possible are saved when disaster strikes. And much of this planning is done collaboratively between organizations and governments since disasters know no borders and strike indiscriminately.
Unfortunately, many government entities overlook something very important when they plan their disaster and emergency response programs and work to improve their emergency preparedness – cybersecurity.
It is understandable that cybersecurity would get ignored in these instances. It’s simply not a priority or concern when disasters strike, and traditional approaches to cybersecurity are often counterproductive to what is necessary in disaster and emergency response situations.
Ultimately, every first responder, policeman, paramedic, firefighter and volunteer coming to the aid of disaster victims needs to be coordinated and informed. They need access to important maps, files, information and communication for their own safety and the safety of those they’re coordinating to save. They need connectivity and information sharing. And most traditional cybersecurity measures often restrict access to these things, not enable them.
So, what happens when disaster strikes?
First responders from the immediate and surrounding areas – often including those from neighboring cities and states – rush to the scene to ensure that there is enough manpower and warm bodies to deliver the emergency services necessary. And the government entity that they’re assisting can either fail to give them any access to data and communications, or completely open their networks to them to give them what they need.
Should they fail to give these volunteers and first responders the network and communications access and capabilities they need, they’re tying their hands and making it difficult for them to accomplish their mission, while also risking their lives. If they give them unfettered access to government networks, they’re causing other problems entirely. In these instances, they’re working to greatly reduce their damage in one area, while greatly increasing their risk in another.
Providing unfettered access to networks may be useful or necessary in the short term – while responding to an emergency. But, it could be harmful in the long term when these volunteers and first responders return home – often to other towns, cities and states – with credentials for accessing a government entity’s networks.
However, there is a more elegant solution that large cities and other government organizations responsible for disaster preparedness and response planning are beginning to explore. The advanced authentication solutions entering the market today are providing government organizations with an alternative solution that enables them to deliver the communication, connectivity and information needed to first responders in emergency response scenarios without having the compromise their security.
Today’s advanced multifactor authentication solutions deliver strong, out-of-band authentication that does more than just check a user’s credentials, but also ensures that they are who they say they are by gauging intent and other factors. But these solutions deliver more than just strong security, they also offer capabilities that provide flexibility and simple account management that can make it easy for government entities to painlessly deliver access and then just as painlessly remove it when necessary.
For example, these solutions can obfuscate the credentials from the end user, ensuring that a volunteer or first responder gets the necessary access they need without ever knowing the credentials providing that access. They can also enable administrators to remove access with a simple point and click, eliminating access as quickly and easily as it was delivered.
Finally, these solutions can make the authentication process simple and easy, utilizing things that volunteers already have – like a user’s smartphone – as part of the authentication process. This ensures that access is never complicated and inconvenient, while also eliminating the need to distribute tokens or other authentication tools to volunteers and first responders that are most likely geographically distributed and focused on more important tasks at hand.
Advanced IT solutions and capabilities are essential for first responders and volunteers in emergency response situations. They ensure connectivity, information sharing and collaboration across a group in circumstances that are neither ideal nor tranquil. But the rush to deliver these services can’t mean that security winds up on the back burner. By implementing the advanced MFA solutions today that can make access easy and credential management even easier, state and local governments can ensure they’re prepared to protect their citizens and their networks tomorrow, when disaster strikes.