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Emergency alert system keeping staff safe in times of terror and crisis


Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day.

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day.

Mark Wahlberg in Patriots Day.

Sometimes innovation is born out of necessity, or a brainchild. At other times, it's born out of adversity. Recent atrocities in European cities and airports have a terrible cost: most importantly in human lives, but also in financial terms to individual business travellers and companies heading to, or operating in, those areas affected.

The World Trade Center attacks led to the creation of US company Everbridge, which coordinates communications to businesses' employees in critical situations, be they terror or simply weather related. Last year alone it sent 1.5bn critical-event messages to employees of companies, and its 3,500-plus clients include 24 of the 25 busiest airports in North America, eight of the 10 biggest investment banks and the world's biggest accountancy firms.

So what does Everbridge do? Simply put, it tracks your company's employees, such as examining where they've logged in last on a computer, tablet or phone, even down to where they last used a door swipe card or other identifier such as company credit card.

In the case of the Brussels Airport attacks, executives heading to that city were notified to stand down from taking a flight or train there, while headquarters management were told where their staff were.

"It's a case of assess, locate, automate and communicate," Nick Hawkins, managing director for the EMEA region, told the Sunday Independent. During critical events, SMS may be down, so the Boston-headquartered company uses other forms of communication, with alerts tailored to various employees.

He cites the case of hospital frontline staff being called in during an emergency, while less essential staff are advised to stay home under a streamlined casualty plan, saving time and money. The technology can even be used to access information from an employees' heart monitor, and advice can be relayed to him or her to seek medical advice.

With the recent release of Patriots Day, starring Mark Wahlberg, the movie about the 2013 Boston marathon bombings, Hawkins says the company played a key role as the city's mobile phone network became overloaded by texts and voice calls. Everbridge bypassed the cellular towers using landlines and wifi, with the city using the technology to call in extra police and firefighters, mobilise command posts, and direct rescue personnel, as companies in the downtown area contacted their staff to check if they were safe, and advise them on what to do.

■ Always on the lookout for an upgrade to business class? Those old stories of dressing to impress or smiling at check-in staff are as dated as DC3s and seat ashtrays.

One regular reader told this column of being invited to bid for an upgrade on her economy ticket to Washington DC from Dublin with Aer Lingus. With carriers always on the lookout for ways to maximise revenue - including, oddly, even charging for overwing exit seats - the Irish airline is just one of dozens who'll take a bid from you to swing left at the entrance door. (In the case of Aer Lingus, upgrades are restricted to North American routes). Around 40 carriers - including Brussels Airlines, Air Canada and Malaysia Airlines - have similar incentives provided by global company Plusgrade.com. Money will only be taken from your credit card if your bid is successful, but industry sources say you shouldn't expect to get bumped up for anything less than €250 each way, with some advising putting down a bid of around €400 to have a decent chance of that bigger upfront seat.

■ There's an all-new business class experience for passengers travelling from Dublin to JFK as American Airlines resumes seasonal services between the two cities from April 13.

The Boeing 757-200 planes will feature 16 fully lie-flat seats in a two-by-two configuration, with personal Samsung Galaxy tablets. American has also revamped inflight menus, in conjunction with top chefs Mark Sargeant and Maneet Chauhan. The economy cabin hasn't been left out, with 52 of the 160 seats offering up to 7" of extra pitch. From May 6, American will also resume seasonal services from Dublin to Chicago O'Hare International Airport and Charlotte Douglas International Airport, both with revamped business class. The same day sees the return of the seasonal flight from Shannon Airport to Philadelphia, operated by Boeing 757-200s.

■ Qatar has followed Singapore Airlines and Etihad into double-bed territory, but while its rivals offer the bigger bed in First, Qatar has brought it into business class with its new QSuite product. The airline boasts of its flexibility, with travelling groups being able to create their own suite of four seats for meetings and socialising, with two seats facing another two, with a small panelled enclosure.

And they must be a trusting bunch at Qatar, not mentioning the downsides. Singapore has warned in the past that it wouldn't allow "inappropriate behaviour" by loved-up passengers in double beds - ie, don't even think of doing the business in business class.

No word yet either if QSuite will be available on the Dublin-Doha route for this summer's launch.

Sunday Indo Business