A new app is keeping businesses in Victoria and Westminster informed in an emergency. Words by Reyhaan Day.



A new cutting edge security system is giving businesses and workers around Westminster and Victoria peace of mind.

Introduced by the Westminster and Victoria Business Improvement Districts, the system is designed to keep business on top of emergency situations.

The Victoria Emergency Notification System (VENS) is an app-based platform that combines SMS alerts, voicemail, mass emailing and two-way in-app messaging.

It provides a mass notification tool for use in the event of unfolding security situations.

These can range from street protests, like the Extinction Rebellion demonstrations, to terrorism and ‘black swan’ civil emergencies such as the Holborn fires in 2015.


Speedy alerts

In an emergency, VENS sends a broadcast to all business members, who receive an alert through a variety of channels.

They can then make an informed decision about what to do next.

“We felt that it would add value to the local business community, and enhance local business resilience,” says Chris Tsikolis (main picture above) head of security and business resilience at the Victoria BID.

“Information and speed are of the essence, especially in the digital era. It’s important to have timely information,” he says.


Instant updates

Uniquely, the system is linked to a government department, meaning updates are instant.

“The main challenge was to plug this platform into a government department so that we could give 24/7 capability, which we were fortunate enough to do, because we have a government department within our footprint.

“So we can get near real time information from them. We can then feed that on to the platform and push it out to all the businesses in the area,” he says.

The Victoria and Westminster BIDs are the first to have a system like this.

“Others seem to be adopting the same solution; and a wider security group called the West End Security Group, which represents six BIDs and six estate owners in Westminster, are also looking to take up the platform.”


Extinction Rebellion

Thankfully, VENS hasn’t yet been used to report anything catastrophic.

The app has sent around 80 broadcasts since January, but most of them were about demonstrations.

The main test was during the Extinction Rebellion protests.

“We’ve got Victoria Street; several government departments; Parliament Square within our footprint – so it’s the go-to place to protest,” he says.

“We think this system will give comfort to current and prospective business owners in the area,” he adds.