Q&A with John Bonnett, Dir. of Crisis Management & Prevention at ERIE Insurance

John Bonnett - Erie Insurance Crisis Management & Prevention
Erie Insurance's home campus covers over 40 acres in downtown Erie, Penn.

To meet the growing emergency service needs of public and private organizations, SimpleSense developed and tested a service to improve information sharing between first responders and private security teams in an emergency. This technology delivers critical information to those who need it most, when they need it most.

With a mission to ensure the safety of those on their campus, ERIE Insurance (ERIE), currently ranked 381 on the Fortune 500’s list of the largest American companies based on total revenue, agreed to pilot SimpleSense while the company was participating in the Secure Erie Accelerator.

Through this pilot, the ERIE team discovered the life-saving potential of the platform, and was excited to provide feedback to maximize its functionality. To learn more about the pilot and ERIE part in guiding SimpleSense to where it is today, we sat down with the Director of Crisis Prevention and Management Department of ERIE, John Bonnett. 

Q: Tell me about your history in emergency service?

John Bonnett: I started as a consultant in DC and worked for the federal government for a while. I did investigations, clearances, cyber work, emergency management, and executive protection. I bounced around. I was on the West Coast, East Coast, overseas, and also the middle part of the country.

Q: How did you link up with SimpleSense?

JB: Through the Innovation District here in Erie. I was introduced to Eric and the SimpleSense team. We started to have conversations around what ERIE needs were. We started in a few different directions. For instance, we started with hardware and discussed the gaps there.

Ultimately, our focus here at ERIE is around the safety of people. When we started focusing the conversation on the people on our campus, we started to really understand where our gaps were.

Q: Can you give me a little more insight into those gaps and how SimpleSense fits in?

JB: There are a couple of gaps that I see—if you talk to any of my peers out there, whether they’re in insurance, finance, or even a Fortune 100, they’ll tell you the same—the workforce is becoming more mobile. In 10 to 15 years, we won’t have phones on the desk.

What we realized very quickly is that we didn’t have a way to know if there was an emergency with an employee who didn’t call 911 from a landline. More specifically, there’s a gap between if I call 911 from my mobile phone or if I call from my ERIE desk phone and contact our emergency line.

So, if there’s an emergency call, the first responders, whether it’s fire, police, medical, they can’t get in our buildings and they can’t find the person or people in need without our knowledge. 

Every second truly counts. So, if we’re able to help those first responders get access to our buildings and help them locate the incident, we’ll save lives. We’re literally able to slash minutes off of a rescue if our security team knows about the emergency at the same time as the 911 center.

When I talked to my peers in the industry, they were also trying to fill those same gaps. Just showing up at the wrong door can cause a huge delay. In the case of campuses that are even larger than ours, it can take five or six minutes for the first responders to get across campus.

Erie Insurance Master Plan Aerial

Q: How big is ERIE Insurance’s campus?

JB: It’s about forty acres, very spread out.

Q: Where do you see emergency response going in the next decade or two as far as how private and public responders are going to have to act together, especially as corporate campuses grow?

JB: That’s a good question. We have a really good relationship with our first responders here in Erie. As recently as a couple weeks ago, we were meeting with the police and the fire chief.

I think that we’re going to have to increasingly work with those folks to share information, access, and communication around simple things, like ensuring that they’re on our mass communication system. So if I’m an emergency manager here, and ERIE is sending out a mass notification to our employees, the chief of police should get that message as well.

I think we’re doing it better, specifically in Erie, than some of my other peers out there just by the nature of the relationships that have been built over the years.

Erie Insurance Active States & Field Offices

Q: What would you like to see SimpleSense integrate into their technology? How would that work in the future of ERIE Insurance?

JB: We’re piloting the technology within our security operations center. But, I see SimpleSense being a tool to help us respond quicker. In the future, I’d like to see it being leveraged by first responders to get them more information up front. This way they’ll know which door they’re coming in and what kind of treatment is needed.

Q: What do you think about new generations of employees coming into ERIE Insurance and working with their own devices?

JB: I think privacy is a main concern of both employees and ERIE Insurance. We want to maintain the privacy of the employee while providing them with the best emergency response. So the question is: how do we marry the two? That’s a pretty complex equation.

Right now, SimpleSense is helping us do that. We’re not sending a lot of sensitive data out there. SimpleSense isn’t an app on somebody’s phone. I think the advantage of this system is that we’re leveraging public data to help keep people safe.

Q: What attracted you to the SimpleSense?

JB: I think it was their openness to be flexible in their approach. When we started off the conversation, we talked about a problem, and as we talked about it, we realized we had to pivot. I was impressed with their ability to change course and really adapt to the true problem we were trying to solve.

The other component that struck me was their ability to integrate with our 911 center so easily. They were able to connect our problem and the technology challenges and deliver a solution that, frankly, we hadn’t seen before.

The other thing is scalability. We not only have the home campus, but we have the other field offices, and it’s critical that those staff know and understand what’s going on in the organization. We can communicate quicker if we know about the issue sooner. So, I think there’s real value in the scalability of SimpleSense. It’s not an overly complex technology, but it’s how their technology is able to support people in those localities.

However, it’s more than the buildings, it’s also the transit to and from the buildings. The advantage around SimpleSense is that they are able to create a geofence that is unique to our organization. Then I can adjust and expand those boundaries depending on if we get a new building.

SimpleSense & Erie Insurance

Q: Tell me about the process between ERIE and SimpleSense as far as updating the features?

JB: What I really appreciate is that the SimpleSense team would take their technology as far as it could go and then would come back to ask for suggestions. They actually took the feedback we gave to them.

For instance, we needed incidents color coded, and we needed it to be really simplistic because it’s flowing on the screen while there are 20 other things going on. They were able to adjust the interface for our needs. I was also amazed at how quickly it happened.

Like I mentioned, we started out looking at creating hardware to help us determine if someone was in a room and how many other people were also there during an emergency. What we realized as we did some testing was that we ultimately need to get a quicker response to let all necessary parties know about the emergency first.

From a mobility, scalability, and priority-of-life perspective, we had to change directions. SimpleSense is now a technology that can be easily scaled to all of our offices in a fairly robust way. 

We can also get alerts on our phones and to our email. When I think about the value proposition, it’s getting the information to the people that need to know it the fastest. From a beta perspective, it’s pretty instantaneous.

Emergency service is an interesting space, because we’re all trying to do the same thing. We’re trying to preserve life and keep people safe. For that reason, both public and private organizations have been supportive, because the sooner we can provide resources, be it by unlocking doors, providing a medical bag, or offering a helping hand, the better off we all are. We’re really fortunate to be working with a good group of folks here in town who understand that there’s a common mission and a common interest for all of us.

A Simple Mission

Just as Bonnett mentioned, whether it’s the Crisis Prevention and Management Department at ERIE, the 911 center in Erie County, or the SimpleSense team, we’re all here to keep people safe. With the foresight to address the emergency concerns that come with BYOD policies, ERIE was expeditious in piloting a solution that has the potential to keep everyone on their campus and in transit to their branch offices safer.

SimpleSense is actively seeking early adopters and strategic partners to build the next generation of workplace security. If you’re interested in digitizing and securely sharing communication between emergency services teams, book a time to learn more about our technology.

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