By Robin Hattersley Gray · October 17, 2016
For nearly a decade now, campuses across the nation have been implementing mass notification systems that enable first responders and campus administrators to communicate with their communities during emergencies. In fact, many institutions are on their second or third generation of systems.
The technology has come a long way since the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting that put the world on notice about the importance of emergency alerting. Before that, many campuses relied solely on email for mass notification… that is, if they had any mass notification plan at all. If they did have more than one system, the solutions usually couldn’t “talk” to each other. Now, however, more campuses are integrating their systems so they can more efficiently send out potentially life-saving information.
Not only has the technology evolved, so have campus communities’ expectations of how quickly they will receive emergency alerts. It’s now quite common for students or staff members to complain when they aren’t notified immediately that an emergency has occurred on or near campus.
Keeping this in mind, this next installment of Campus Safety’s series on technology’s return on investment (ROI) features input from various end users on what they’ve spent recently on their emergency notification systems, how they’ve kept costs under control and the benefits that have resulted from using the technology.
Equipment, Maintenance and Support Costs Vary
Because campuses vary widely in size, community type, location and requirements, it’s nearly impossible to develop any rule on how much an emergency notification system will cost. One large public university’s recent expenditure on equipment and installation included $90,000 on additional outdoor sirens in areas with poor audibility; $25,000 on more indoor siren interfaces; $40,000 on additional beacons in buildings or rooms without indoor sirens; and $15,000 on additional digital display interfaces. The yearly recurring costs for all of that institution’s alert solutions total about $85,000.
A mid-sized K-12 district that has been shopping for an upgraded landline/cell phone calling, texting and in-building announcement system found that most of the solutions they were considering cost between $2 and $7 per student, not including software and installation, which could cost up to $25,000.
Meanwhile, a private college recently installed 10 blue light phones, which cost $7,500 each; and indoor phones, which cost a total of $7,500 annually for the software. It cost $3,000-$5,000 to install each solution and about $15,000 to develop new policies. The annual maintenance price tag is $10,000, and the cost for policy development was a one-time outlay of $15,000. Another university system spends about $150,000 per year to maintain all of its alert systems.
Texting Solutions Can Be Inexpensive for Some Campuses
These examples clearly show that there is a wide variance of costs associated with emergency notification, but according to Dave Baeder who is manager of mass notification systems for Siemens, texting can be fairly economical.
“If you want to go with something as simple as text messaging, it could cost you pennies per transaction,” he says.
Baeder warns, however, that there are some significant challenges associated with text messaging for educational institutions.
“The student population is very fluid, which has been somewhat the Achilles heel of text messaging,” he says. “The data is never accurate. You really have to rely on premise-based solutions like voice evac, intercoms, giant voice, digital signage, blue light phones and telephones to drive messages out.”
Indeed, most experts believe that a layered approach that incorporates several different types of alert systems (usually including text notification) is the best approach to mass notification.
Other costs that add up for emergency notification include UL, NFPA and local fire code compliance as well as database management.