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9 Ways to Optimize Your Mass Notification Systems

It is important to plan ahead for campus emergencies so that your mass notification efforts will reach the right people at the right time. This list of best practices can help you to accomplish your mass notification goals.

1. Determine who has authority to issue alerts. A campus emergency notification policy should cover who has the authority to approve sending messages. According to USC’s Captain David Carlisle, there shouldn’t be too many decision makers. “The group of people authorized to decide whether or not to issue a Trojans Alert has to be relatively small in order to expedite the process,” he says.

The policy should also cover who actually issues those warnings. Is it the police department, security department, emergency management, the communications department or some other group?

Related Article: Learn how to solve your common emergency notification problems.

Who has the authority to issue emergency notice?

Security director 54%
President 48%
Vice president 44%
Police chief 39%
Emergency management 30%
Incident commander 30%
Public relations/PIO 26%
CEO 20%
Emergency response 19%
Deputy chief 17%
Safety team 15%
IT 11%
Superintendent 9%
Residence life director 6%
Principal 6%
Chancellor 6%
Human resources 4%
Other 11%

Source: Campus Safety 2010 Mass Notification Survey

2. Trust the Weather Service.
“If the National Weather Service issues a warning, relay that warning,” recommends FSU Emergency Management Coordinator Dave Bujak. “If it turns out to be a non-event, that’s not your problem. Let them be the professionals, and don’t try to second guess them.”

3. Adopt the opt-out approach to text alert enrollment. According to CS’ 2010 mass notification survey, only 11 percent of campuses that have text message alert systems have automatic enrollment with an opt-out option. Although opt-out is not very popular, Bujak says this approach to getting campus constituents to enroll in text alerting is the most effective.

“With opt-in, in the best case you are looking at a 35-40 percent participation rate and the worst case is 10 percent. It’s hardly worth it. We have an opt-out policy. You can’t register for classes unless you provide us with your phone number or check the disclaimer that ‘I am opting out.’”

This approach has yielded FSU a 90 percent participation rate.

4. Educate campus about your mass notification program.
This can be done via E-mail announcements, new student and staff orientation, Web site announcements, newspaper/newsletter announcements, posters, sign-up tables, TV and radio ads, mailers/ teacher/parent meetings, parent association meetings and more.

5. Automate your database. The campuses that manage their databases most effectively tie in their student enrollment and human resource databases. Additionally, these automated processes scan for students who are no longer attending and employees who have been terminated. Vendors can also help with this process. Some systems have a feature that discontinues sending a message to a device if it continues to not receive or reject messages. The system then communicates the problem to the recipient’s other devices.

6. Coordinate with I.T. and other stakeholders. “A lot of people developed their systems in a vacuum and they either stepped on toes or didn’t realize they spent $100,000 on this when they could have utilized something else,” says Bujak. “For us, we are embarking on the whole voice over IP thing. Rather than me go and spend $20,000 on indoor speakers in XYZ building, I go talk to my I.T. people. They are already covering that cost. I’ll have a building online in two months, and I just saved $20,000.”

The systems being installed should also be scalable.

About the Author

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Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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