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Real-Time School Emergency Response Plans

How mobile technology can improve access to emergency response guides and instructions.

Providence College is a liberal arts school that takes the safety of its students seriously. Located in a residential urban neighborhood two miles west of downtown Providence, R.I.,  it is also one of a growing number of schools that has incorporated dynamic mobile technology into their emergency response plans to transform the smartphones of students and teachers into emergency response guides. Navigate to Providence’s mobile applications web page, and it is clear that the safety of its students and the ability to communicate quickly and effectively is a top priority. Many universities have taken notice and are falling in line.

In the modern era of learning, educational institutions recognize that they must be prepared for a wide variety of emergency situations, ranging from severe weather, fire and medical emergencies to lockdowns and bomb threats. The type of educational institution they are designed for, whether they are K-12 schools or college campuses, in turn, dictates the response to each of these crises.

See Related:Creating an Emergency Plan: 10 Ways to Tame the Beast

An alarming 88% of schools were required to communicate about an emergency safety situation, reports a 2014 SchoolDude survey. While schools allocate a lot of time and money to create effective crisis plans tailored specifically to their institutions, these plans are only as effective as their ability to be accessed in a time of emergency. In many cases, emergency plans sit in binders located in central locations or on hallway walls, which can be difficult, if not impossible, to access when needed. In the age of mobile technology, access to these plans can be greatly improved by the very devices that are most commonly by the sides of teachers, students and administrators – their mobile technology, and specifically their smartphones and tablets.

Why Go Mobile for Emergency Plans?
The average user checks their phone close to 150 times per day; 23 times a day for messaging and 22 times for voice calls, a recent study by Kleiner Perkins Caufield and Byers found. In fact, it was noted that on average users check their phones as often as every six and a half minutes, which is why, in the case of an emergency, it is no surprise that one of the first things people grab is their mobile phone.

Having the emergency action plan available in an app “gives us the flexibility needed to customize and publish the policies and procedures in the format we prefer and clearly shares easy-to-read instructional diagrams,” says Lt. Mike Ceperley, emergency management coordinator for Northwest Missouri State University.

While schools allocate a lot of time and money to create effective crisis plans tailored specifically to their institutions, these plans are only as effective as their ability to be accessed in a time of emergency.

Mobilizing emergency plans does not require any additional resources from the schools themselves; they have already created their plans, and their staff and students are already carrying their devices. Mobile-enabled emergency action plans direct communication to one, simple central location.

Sharing the Plan: When Quick and Accurate Are Important.
It is critical that schools be able to communicate quickly and effectively during emergency situations, including when they are in lockdown or shelter-in-place mode. This includes alerting faculty, staff, students, parents, first responders and the greater community. Mobile devices are an ideal way to disseminate fully customizable information regarding updated emergency contacts, action checklists, easy-to-read instructional and building diagrams, and shelter areas.

Static, hard copies of emergency action plans are out-of-date almost from the moment they are printed. They can be difficult and expensive to update and re-print. With mobile-enabled emergency plans, emergency phone numbers are updated in real-time and can be accessed by simply clicking on a link during a time of crisis (one-tap key contact calling). Mobile-enabled emergency plans can even supply a photo of the contact, which is often of importance during an emergency situation. The mobile solution allows push notifications for updates and alerts, which is known to be faster than email in reaching users because they are targeted, timely and sent only to people who have downloaded that specific app. In effect, the mobile device becomes a dedicated crisis communication system, a mobile command and control device.

See Related: Follow NFPA-1600 When Developing Your Emergency Management Program

Importantly, emergency action plans often shift and change during emergencies. With a mobile-enabled plan, emergency information – including important phone numbers and contacts – can be updated in real-time, re-routing the user depending on circumstances. Some mobile apps also include access to large libraries of possible emergency event scenarios complete with templates and images.

In the event that Wi-Fi is not available during the emergency, the information in the mobile app is still preserved for the end-user, so Internet or cellular interruption does not pose a problem.

“A huge part of the mobile app’s benefit to our community is that it is accessible even when communications and power are lost,” says Ceperley.

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