Common Alerting Protocol (CAP) is an international standard XML format that allows emergency messages to be distributed across multiple warning systems simultaneously, developed by the Organization for the Advancement of Structured Information Standards (OASIS). In the United States, CAP is being used as the base technology for the comprehensive Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) that is being developed by the FCC, the Department of Homeland Security and the National Weather Service.
That’s a lot of acronyms, but basically emergency alerts from many different sources can be gathered together and sent out using CAP. Different kinds of alarms can be triggered for different kinds of events (one for extreme weather, another for a security alert, etc.), and rich content can be delivered to multiple endpoints.
CAP is also backward-compatible with older alert technologies, expanding their capabilities while making it easy to integrate your organization with this newer, wider standard.
Get the most recent info from OASIS here.
Sooner or later, everyone will be using this standard, or one that uses CAP as its foundation. FEMA is fully committed to its use and integration, and government agencies at all levels are implementing it. Plus, CAP has some additional features that earlier protocols, like SAME and WEA, do not.
CAP is comprehensive and flexible. It allows integration of pictures and video, so people can get the information they need quickly – if a picture is worth a thousand words, then a picture saves the time it would take to read them. But text can also be included, helping the hearing-impaired. It also allows audio, so people don’t have to be looking directly at visual warnings as they make their way to assembly points or shelter. It can also include maps and geographical information, making instructions relevant and specific. And there are multi-lingual features as well, so everyone can be alerted.
CAP is also an “all-media” alert protocol, meaning that emergency messages can be issued to screens, sirens, mobile devices, faxes, websites and computer desktops, as well as radio and television. It’s also an “all-hazard” system, so literally any kind of emergency is covered by CAP.
It’s not just during an emergency that CAP is useful. Because many municipal, county, state and federal agencies all get the same data (which is geographically pinpointed and logged) in the same format, trends and patterns emerge from the data. That makes it easier to predict, detect and prevent future emergencies.
There are legal requirements for educational organizations as well.The 1990 Clery Act, an amendment to the Higher Education Act, requires that institutions give “timely” warnings of crimes that may threaten the safety of staff or students. A recent revision of the National Fire Protection Association’s National Fire Alarm and Signaling Systems Code set standards for mass notifications in various serious emergency situations.
Plus, you want everyone on your campus – staff, faculty, student and visitors, to be safe and feel secure. So even without the legal requirements, it’s still a good idea.
With all these rules to follow, it’s good to know that help is available.The Higher Education Opportunity Act created relief programs for institutions recovering from emergencies, as well as a matching grant program to fund development and implementation of campus safety plans (including hardware and training). The Homeland Security Grant Program allows US colleges and universities to apply for emergency alert system funding as sub-grantees. And theReadiness and Emergency Management for Schools (REMS) program is a discretionary fund that supports local education agencies in their efforts to develop and deploy high-quality emergency operations plans.
In recent years the US Department of Education has awarded millions of dollars to higher education institutions and school districts for emergency management and response plans.
Other FEMA grant options include:
- Fire Prevention and Safety Grants (FP&S)
- Emergency Management Performance Grants (EMPG)
- The Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP)
CAP on Campus
The Higher Education Opportunity Act doesn’t define exactly what a “significant emergency” or “dangerous situation” is, so you will have to determine these things in the early stages of your emergency operations plan.
If an emergency develops, you want to send out your alerts as quickly as possible to as many different places as make sense. Some popular methods for alerts include:
- Text messaging (SMS)
- Digital displays
- Website announcements
- Pop-up alerts of projectors or computer screens
- Social networking sites
- Intercom announcements or pings
- Radio announcements
- Call boxes
- Phone trees
Alerts on Digital Signage Systems
Your digital signage system is a great way to get the word out quickly – the displays are already optimally placed in high traffic areas, and people are used to looking at them for all sorts of information. A well-though-out emergency alert plan should include your digital displays as well as other delivery methods.
Your content management software should have the capability of triggering alerts. Some of the more popular ways this is accomplished is by allowing manual interruption of scheduled playlists, an email sent to the content manager, via an API, or directly from CAP triggers. Optimally, you’ll have all four options, since who knows what will be happening when an emergency strikes?
By making sure your digital signage software allows for CAP integration, you can be assured that you’ll have the most current and accurate information for your area immediately available.
Many educational facilities have excellent emergency plans in place:
- The University of Alabama has an Emergency Operation Plan that incorporates protocols from the U.S. Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System (NIMS), instructing Campus Police on how to respond.
- The University at Buffalo uses the Rave Alert system that sends messages to everyone with a college email as well as SMS, RSS, Twitter, Facebook and CAP alert messages.
- Virginia Commonwealth University got funding from the Department of Homeland Security to create a comprehensive campus-wide alert system that includes their digital signage across 15 buildings, a television network connected to the CCTV system and an alert website that is updated in emergencies.
There are hundreds more stories of successful emergency operation plans that integrate Common Alerting Protocols with multiple delivery methods to ensure that everyone on campus is alerted if an emergency situation arises. Make sure that your campus is one of them.
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