In Their Own Words: 2023 Emergency Notification Survey Participants Share Their Challenges

We asked the 2023 Campus Safety Emergency Notification Survey participants to tell us about their biggest struggles. Here’s what some of them had to say.

In Their Own Words: 2023 Emergency Notification Survey Participants Share Their Challenges

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Here’s what some of the participants in this year’s Campus Safety Emergency Notification Survey said about the challenges they’ve experienced with their mass notification programs.

Speed of Emergency Notifications, Miscommunication, and Message Delivery

  • The biggest challenge is getting an emergency message out quickly when you are handling a crisis. We work closely with our PR director to decrease the amount of time to do so.
  • Timeliness of messaging is never fast enough for everyone.
  • Miscommunication about an announcement caused a lot of confusion with families in the district. This confusion led to rumors, forcing us to re-examine how we communicate with people in the building.
  • Sometimes all notifications aren’t reaching the entire staff.
  • Crafting follow up messages in a timely manner.

Message Recipient System Sign Up

  • Getting the students to sign up and/or appreciate the seriousness of the notifications.
  • Not having the students, faculty and staff opt-in to the program.
  • Encouraging staff to register their personal mobile phone information.
  • Making sure ALL receive the pertinent information – it is difficult to make sure all are signed up.
  • Getting students to download the mobile app to their devices has been a challenge.
  • Getting non-English speaking population to enroll.
  • Students and faculty opting out of the messages is a reoccurring thing. Trying to find the best solution for this.
  • Getting students to enroll in the platform.
  • Getting all students and parents to enroll in text alert.
  • Employees not enrolled in the system.
  • Getting parents to enroll in or download app for the updates is a challenge.
  • Staff refuses to download the apps to their personal phones. My advice is to stay away from app based systems or make it a hiring policy that staff must download appropriate apps to their phones.
  • Getting all staff members to sign up for it.
  • New students don’t want to sign up until something happens. When we have a drill, they wonder why they don’t get alerts.
  • Buy-in from staff for enrollment is a challenge. Initially there was automatic enrollment. Changed to an opt in process due to complaints.
  • Getting employee texting environment to a higher level of acceptance.
  • Students and staff do not often sign up of the optional app. Everyone gets notifications without the app.

Writing Emergency Notification Messages

  • Our biggest challenge is in the decision-making process, especially for sensitive topics that are not clearly emergency notifications or timely warnings. We collaborate with senior leadership, general counsel, and communications to find the right balance about what to communicate. This is not a system challenge, but a decision challenge.
  • The biggest challenge by far is getting C-Suite administrators to understand that we don’t have time to massage every message. In dire situations, we need to put out messages that will protect life and property. Some administrators want to see and approve every message before it goes out, thus slowing down the time we can push out a message. Advice – Create and use templates for the hazards your school is likely to face. Get these approved in advance and let your administrators know that you will use the templates when you have to send an alert. Also, follow the Incident Command System – when there is a circumstance that could cause loss of life, follow the instructions of the Incident Commander, and don’t wait on approvals from an administrator.
  • Our alerts need to send out by an administrator. During an emergency there is a significant delay in sending out the alert.
  • Still unsure who will actually send the alert at times.
  • Demands by senior executives to send SMS text for situations which do not meet our standard for “EMERGENCY”. (The standard is, events which require immediate or direct action for self-protection, updates to these incidents, all clear messages, changing the operating schedule of the University.) Delays in issuing messages due to excessive vetting of the message. Inconsistent selection of message pathways.
  • Notifications are confusing and though they give rise to something occurring, they don’t give the recipient actionable steps to take individually When a message goes out, other decision makers aren’t included in the “hey, we are going to send this,” it is sent in a vacuum.
  • Getting the message approved always delays it from getting out in a timely manner, thus many times making it ineffective.

Multiple Campuses

  • Groups of people on other campuses that do not want information from another campus.
  • Having difficulty separating our campuses. We have six campuses and have to send alerts to everyone although there may only be one campus affected.
  • Separating notifications by campus. We have multiple campuses and it is difficult to get students and staff to change their information to include which campus is their primary.
  • Multiple campus’s, determining what to put out that affects just 1 campus and not alarm the other campuses. What may apply to 1 campus, may not apply to others.

Funding

  • Funding for upgrades and changes has been difficult. Tried a grant and it didn’t fit. The biggest hurdle is finding something that does more than just messaging and is still cost effective.
  • Getting buy in and if we have buy in getting funding on an extremely low to no budget. All of the very good solutions out there are not priced to support small underfunded rural schools. State and Federal Government do a terrible job of funding where the most need is at. That makes our students less important than the bigger more affluent district.
  • Emergency alert systems for any school that is used to alert employees about an active emergency should be readily accessible and should not cost as much as they do. This is school safety – safety systems shouldn’t be too expensive to obtain.
  • Budget does not offer any improvements for several years.
  • The cost is preventing from bring in new updated system. I know the impact to students/staff can’t be measured with money, but the initial cost and then the revolving cost is a challenge.

Database Management

  • Maintaining current distribution lists.
  • Updates sent to wrong populations and the need to update lists easily.
  • The system we have is set up to have a two year expiration date so employees who are here longer than that fall off with no notification. We are in the works to get a different system, and it will not have an expiration date and during employee check out we will remove them from the system. Students will be monitored through enrollment to be removed from the system.
  • Continual change over in student population.
  • Getting students to update their cell telephone numbers in the system.
  • Biggest is having updated contact information from families.
  • Too many changes in staff, hard to keep up with the alert system management.
  • Students do not update phone numbers and other contact information.

Training

  • Teachers and school staff not utilizing the emergency button appropriately or at all. For instance, most recently a middle school student had a heart attack. PE teacher did not utilize the alert.
  • Training people to send out updates.
  • Although several administrators have the authority to issue alerts, other than the Public Safety Director , Assistant Director, and Communications Director, the others do not actually know how to send them. Also, having a user friendly mobile app would help.

Technology

  • We do not have capability for parents or visitors to opt in.
  • Announcements cannot be heard in building hallways.
  • Limited capabilities of the system to work with a district as large as ours.
  • The initial startup of the system and getting the correct people the authorization that they needed in the system.
  • Technology glitches. During testing of out emergency system we discovered some inadequacies in our current system. Lesson learned,……..test your systems regularly.
  • Support from vendors.
  • Integration of disparate systems.
  • In a mostly cinder block building phone signals are sketchy so use walkie talkies. Problem is teachers keeping them turned on and on their person. We do not have phones in the classrooms.
  • Our biggest challenge is being rural and the cell service coverage just in general and getting signal through our older buildings.
  • The biggest challenge would be integration with our current student management system. One that would be able to utilize the most recent information. Also, the ability to tailor on the fly who the messages go to.
  • Power outages causing electrical spikes and damaging electrical boards.
  • Currently using different systems. Have to send thru one system for email, text and calls but have to go to another system for immediate voice on campus.
  • System limitations relative to text and email delivery.
  • One of our biggest challenges is in the gym area. We have added large speakers, bullhorns etc. This is during sporting events as well as normal sports and assemblies.
  • Not all speakers or paging trees work as anticipated.
  • There are only three people that can put out a message. It is cumbersome and not real user friendly.
  • Time delay between SMS text messages and the email messages. Negative feedback on the wording or lack of including actions to take. Fitting information in 160 characters.
  • Flexibility and integration of the system with new technologies.
  • Alerting and prediction of weather changes and natural disasters like earthquakes that we are recently facing in our region.
  • Looking to add a visual alert light in the band room as PA announcements are difficult to hear when students are playing instruments. We have seen this implemented at other schools and plan to add it here.
  • Our college is in a rural society area, where phone and technology goes out or electrical outages.
  • Limited number of characters to send message.

Stakeholder Buy-In

  • The biggest challenge is securing buy in and participation from Administration to use the system for notification instead of bypassing it.
  • Getting administration to realize the urgency to establish a working system.
  • It is my opinion that it is time to evolve to a more advanced notification system. Of course, funding and buy-in are always an issue. Emergency/Mass notification unfortunately does not appear to be a priority.
  • Understanding of why and when we issue alerts v. other important messages. Getting buy-in to test the system(s) during a semester as opposed to winter break, spring break, etc.
  • Buy-in by C-suite.
  • Getting administration to buy-in to purchase smart notification app for emergency notifications.

Miscellaneous

  • Relying on local law partners to alert us when an event occurs within our area close to campus.
  • We need a panic alarm system that alerts roving security staff, but can’t find a suitable solution.
  • The greatest challenge we face is with transparency. Our admin is afraid of sharing information, which is resented by faculty and families.
  • Complaints on timely notifying parents about events when they are already notified as soon as possible. Kids call/text parents before a mass alert can be sent.
  • We are a State agency, so getting repairs/upgrades completed takes longer due to all the red tape. Therefore, currently there are areas that do not hear alarms or announcements. We do announce safety drills prior to the events, so those that cannot hear the alarms/announcements know that they need to evacuate at a certain time.
  • We definitely could have benefited from a project manager. With so much money and so many vendors vying for our business, it is overwhelming.
  • Dependency on very few tasked with crafting and sending messages.
  • Winter!

Download the Results from the 2023 Campus Safety Emergency Notification Survey.

Check out the results from some of our previous Emergency Notification Deep Dives:

Survey sponsored by:

AtlasIED Logo CrisisGo, iResponse

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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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