7. What social media plan is in place for emergency situations to communicate with students and parents?
According to Jo Robertson, chairperson of the NFPA 1600 Social Media Task Force, in an article in the NFPA Journal, “If social media is able to push out emergency information to critical audiences, we have to be able to use all of these tools.”
“Since students of all ages now carry wireless devices, it is important that the MNEC system have a way to communicate to students as well as parents,” says Lord. Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets are good ways to keep students and parents informed in the event of an emergency. The school should have a dedicated account on these sites that are specific for emergency messaging ONLY. The use of the school’s Facebook page to also post information during an emergency event is not acceptable. A separate page should be established and used for emergency communication.
Additionally, the school should have a way to send mass texts and emails that provide real-time notification during an emergency event.
8. Are there at least three different ways the MNEC system communicates to the students in an emergency event?
The University of Texas published a study on communications in an emergency situation. What was found is that most students respond to an actual live voice call on their phones better than any other type of communication outlet. Since an emergency situation many times does not provide the luxury of time to contact everyone individually, the MNEC system should provide for three different ways to communicate with the students:
- Live or recorded voice announcements for both inside and outside the building;
- Ability to send mass emails and/or text messages to the students, including social media sites with real-time postings of communication during the event; and
- Visual communication, which can includes strobe lights, textual signage and other forms of non-verbal communication.
9. Does the MNEC system cover rally/evacuation points?
In its 2013 Guide for Developing High-Quality Emergency Operations Plans, the U.S. Department of Education recommends that schools “show involved parties not only where evacuation sites are located, but also where specific areas, such as reunification areas, media areas, and triage areas will be located.” Students and parents should ask whether information can be given to the students at these locations through the MNEC system.
10. What is the process for using the MNEC system?
The Department of Education’s Guide for Developing High-Quality School Emergency Operations Plans provides a detailed analysis process that includes the formation of a process specific to alerting and informing key stakeholders (students, staff and parents) on how and what to communicate in an emergency situation.
“Students should be asking what that process is and who is trained on the process,” says Lord. “Does the process allow for students to be part of the process? Since most events that involve an armed perpetrator, the MNEC system is a vital link to saving lives. The quicker the system can be activated when the threat is recognized, the more lives saved.”
The school/university should have plans in place and a training process that provides clear, easy-to-complete steps, says Lord. Further, the MNEC system MUST be easy to use. Any MNEC that forces someone to complete more than three simple tasks in order to communicate with students and staff is a system that parents and students should be concerned with, he says.
Good MNEC systems will provide a way to start a pre-recorded message with the press of a button, as well as provide the ability to complete a live voice transmission in less than three steps (i.e. pick up a handset, press a button and speak), says Lord.
11. How does the college or university handle access control?
In a lockdown situation, several systems on the campus should work together, including access control, life safety and communication of the message, says Bozeman.
“All of these systems work in tandem,” he says.
12. Is the MNEC system redundant?
Students should ask what happens to the MNEC system when there is a power outage or communication outage. Will the system still perform? According to NFPA’s NFPA 72 National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code 2013 Edition, “The secondary power supply for in-building fire emergency voice/alarm communications service shall be capable of operating the system under quiescent load for a minimum of 24 hours and then shall be capable of operating the system during a fire or other emergency condition for a period of 15 minutes at maximum connected load.” This backup power can be in the form of battery backup, a UPS (Uninterruptable Power Supply) or that the MNEC system is attached to an Emergency Generator (otherwise known as Emergency Power).
13. What is the survivability of the system?
Fire alarms are designed to have redundant components, says Nelson, such as a fire alarm loop that allows the system to still work if one of the fibers breaks. Nelson also installs systems that include local operating controls that allow users to have communications within a specific building if necessary.
14. Does the MNEC system provide for language barriers?
Since a university is filled with multi-cultural and language backgrounds in the student body, it is important that the student ask whether the MNEC system is able to communicate in multiple languages as well as provide for ways to communicate, such as digital signage, to those with hearing impairments.
“The MNEC system is not effective if it can only reach one part of the student body effectively,” says Lord.
This article originally ran on sister publication Campus Safety.
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