Every college and university needs to tweak their mass notification deployment and policies to find the right fit for their student body, faculty and public safety team.
That was the primary message gleaned from a panel of three renowned university emergency management directors at the 2014 Campus Safety Conference held this summer.
Dave Bujak of Florida State University (FSU), David Burns of Santa Clara University (SCU), and Steven F. Goldfarb of the University of Southern California (USC) participated in a panel moderated by CI sister publication Campus Safety’s executive editor Robin Hattersley.
Among the tweaks that each campus made included how students sign up for the mass notification/emergency communications (MNEC) system, what types of messages — both emergency and non-emergency — should be communicated, who is authorized to send MNEC communications, and how the alert system should be complemented by other forms of communication.
The bottom line from the panelists is one that should be good news to integrators trying to differentiate themselves in the education sector: There is no off-the-shelf solution that school safety directors and administrators can simply plug in without adjusting to their own liking.
“It’s not just buying something off the shelf and plugging it in,” says Burns. “Sit down with your IT department, faculty, student representatives and other staff and find out exactly what you need.”
For Bujak, the FSU Alert EZ Emergency Notification and Warning System is just one of 30 methods used to communicate information to students. Notifications/ alerts are sent via SMS text, emails, voice calls and mobile apps. Inside most buildings is at least one audible and one visual delivery method, including indoor sirens, digital displays, desktop pop-ups and Alertus beacons.
Outdoors, FSU uses sirens, digital displays and blue lights. Online, the campus has an alert on the system website and on the university’s main website; additionally, RSS feeds and social media posts keep people updated, along with notifying local media partners.
At USC, the TrojansAlert Emergency Notification System covers multiple campuses. Goldfarb says USC uses Cooper Notification’s web-based Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN) software. The system is hosted by Cooper and can send hundreds of thousands of messages simultaneously to SMS text, email, pager and more.
At Santa Clara University, Burns also has a multi-pronged system using Blackboard Connect that includes SMS text, email, outdoor “big voice” intelligible audio speakers, blue-phone towers and desktop VoIP phone alerts. The school has a second-tier system called Nixle that sends safety alerts to local media, Santa Clara County officials, and friends and families of students.
To increase familiarity with emergency notification, all three men recommend testing the system immediately after registration and periodically thereafter. The panel debated the use of an MNEC system for non-emergency situations. At FSU, Bujak defends using the system for non-emergencies, noting that the more interaction students have with it, the more familiar they become and the more they will use it.
One issue integrators may be asked about during MNEC discussions is system authorization. Establishing a policy that empowers the proper people to be able to “hit the button” to send an emergency message is critical.
“We empower the first-line field supervisors to send out a mass alert,” says USC’s Goldfarb.
He notes that it can be detrimental if too few individuals are empowered to send an alert, primarily because it can sometimes take too long to get an OK.
More? Visit CI sister site MNEC.com to learn more about mass notification solutions.