For a while there it looked like the Afghan girls’ robotics team was going to have to use their “break in case of emergency” video conferencing kit to get them to Washington D.C. for a prestigious global competition.
Denied U.S. visas on the first attempt, despite their robotic creation clearing quarantine, the six-member team resolved to attend the competition anyway, via a series of international video conference calls.
However, reports of the team “crying all day” at the initial bad news–and the fact that they had endured a hazardous 500 mile trek across their troubled homeland to even apply for a visa–won them a last-minute political reprieve, and the powers-that-be granted them rights of passage to attend the FIRST Global Challenge in person, along with teams from 160 other countries.
So the video conferencing equipment will instead presumably be used to keep those back home informed of the team’s progress. The technology, however, could have saved the day if needed, and it is available to anyone in the world with an internet connection who suddenly finds themselves in desperate need of an alternative way to make a very important date. In fact, video conferencing in government is becoming a more and more important way to deal with crises and urgent issues.
Video Conferencing Emergencies
Video conferencing has emerged as the quickest way possible to get a group of people together in a hurry when emergency strikes. The U.S. Federal Reserve’s Open Market Committee, which sets the central bank’s monetary policy, held urgent unscheduled meetings by video in 2010 and 2011 in reaction to breaking financial crisis in Europe and the U.S.
It’s easy to see how the technology comes in handy. None of the high-flying financial experts attending those meetings needed to leave their desks or homes in order to get together to map out a broad response to the crisis.
In November last year, the 15 members of the UN Security Council were able to hold an emergency meeting on the state of the ongoing war in Syria complete with a live video conference link with experts on the ground in Aleppo.
Of course, not all video conferencing acts of heroism occur amid global politics. In 2010, a British couple beamed a live, interactive Skype broadcast of their wedding ceremony to a waiting congregation and celebrant in London from an airport terminal in Dubai because their flight was indefinitely grounded by volcanic eruption. Actually, video calling has a particular knack for dealing with the unexpected on wedding days, as we talked about in our post on Skype wedding ceremonies. The government has been adopting video conferencing gradually, and in a spotty way, over recent years, but it seems that it’s realizing more and more video calling’s potential to smooth tricky situations and solve crises, with a minimum of complicated technology.
Flexible, Portable Video Calling
The reason video conferencing can enable all these emergency meetings is that it has become as flexible and near-omnipresent as the internet itself. The rise of smartphone video chat apps and group video calling platforms means any two (or more) people in range of a cellular or broadband network can meet face-to-face in an instant.
The continued evolution of WebRTC browser-based calling lets people get together instantly without downloading the same app or handing over personal details to a video calling provider.
Added to all this mobility is the fact that most laptops now come with built-in webcams and microphones, and every desktop computer is compatible with external webcams that can produce HD visuals for less than $100.
These easy-to-manage links mean that technically every human on the internet grid can speak face-to-face with any other, provided they know how to find each other. If you have an established emergency response team at your business then certainly know how to find each other in a hurry.
Video Conferencing in the Government: Responding to Crisis
Video conferencing can rise to the emergency occasion in two primary ways. In the case of the Afghan robotics team, it would have allowed the students to travel in spite of the real-world logistical hurdles thrown their way. This is the kind of solution you’d turn to when your car breaks down on the way to an important meeting–just dial into the conference room from your phone. Or if a key team member is physically ailing and can’t get out of the house? Desktop + webcam = meeting attendance.
The other primary problem video conferencing solves is the Federal Reserve dilemma, when you need to act quicker than a dozen individual commutes and private briefings will allow. In the everyday world this type of crisis is when teamwork is most urgently needed. It’s the virtual brainstorm to respond to negative publicity. It’s the executive leadership and coordination needed when a natural disaster strikes. It’s the meeting after the meeting when a crucial project suddenly sours.
It may not always be lifesaving, but emergency video conferencing has already proved vital to solving all kinds of unfolding crises.