Why You Should Consider Adopting an Integrated Emergency Notification Solution

Unifying alarm and communication systems will enable your campus and district to centralize alerting and automate messages.

We all know the cost of education is rising, but the price of ignorance is more expensive, and I would argue dangerous. This is especially evident in matters of campus safety and security. Whether an intruder is in a building, a tornado threatens to touch down in the area, a medical emergency presents itself, or a maintenance issue causes inconvenience or discomfort, knowledge is always power. Implementing a system for mass notification that provides the right level of detail to the right people can reduce risk, panic and confusion, and significantly increase situational awareness when potential threats arise or actual emergencies occur.

Teachers, administrators and other staff are trained to handle crisis situations, but it’s important to properly arm these professionals — not with weapons, but with information about what is actually happening as well as what to do about it. Situational awareness equips those in charge to make the best decisions in delicate circumstances, diffusing panic and restoring order as quickly and effectively as possible.

Watch: Creating Effective Tornado Warning Messages

The recent rash of school safety incidents emphasizes the need for an emergency alerting and response management system that integrates disparate alarm systems so detailed alerts can be delivered to on- and off-site responders. In March, officials at the University of Central Florida were confronted with a student’s suicide and the discovery of firearms and explosives in his dorm room. In early April, school authorities in Houston, Texas, grappled with mass stabbings at the Lone Star Community College. In April, a Georgia elementary school was evacuated when a roll of bathroom tissue was set on fire. Each of these situations resulted in losses — compromised life safety and property and interrupted instructional time.

Responding to such incidents would be enhanced with a system that automatically sends out notifications about a threat along with the relevant information required to manage it. Of course, situations like these and other potential threats must be assessed as part of a crisis or emergency preparedness plan. Implementing situational awareness technology as part that emergency preparedness plan will ensure that the right information goes to the right people on the right devices, prompting the right actions to protect life safety, property, business operations and convenience/comfort of students and staff.

Community College Improves Situational Awareness

The first five minutes of an emergency are critical in determining outcomes. Information with specificity can make the difference between widespread panic and containment of a crisis. A system that generates detailed alerts, including the nature of an alarm and its location, creates the capacity to automatically detect threats and initiate the appropriate responses without panic or error. Conversely, random “alarms” can create as much pandemonium as having no response plan at all.

For example, false alarms triggered by a building automation system at Virginia Western Community College (VWCC) were sending the college and a neighboring elementary school into lockdown, creating unnecessary panic and media coverage. To ensure reliability and prevent unnecessary lockdowns and panic, VWCC officials decided to enhance their mass notification system. After some investigation, the network and security administrator found that the college’s existing Cisco telephone system included SARA’s Situational Awareness and Response Assistant. Steps were taken to integrate SARA with all of the college’s phones and more than 30 emergency pull stations along with the lockdown siren.

Now, if an emergency is called in via a campus phone or activation of a pull station, the system automatically sets in motion a series of notifications to protect life safety. These include the lockdown siren and accompanying message with lockdown instructions broadcast through all of the college’s phones, as well as public address speakers in the cafeteria and other high-traffic areas. In addition, the system alerts campus police and sends a message to a subscription service that will notify students, faculty, staff and local media about an unfolding security situation via E-mail, phone and text. Furthermore, VWCC personnel, including campus police and key administrators, are notified as to the approximate location of the alarm to aid in the incident investigation.

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