Integrating Your Mass Notification System to Provide the Greatest Reach

Although cell phones have become incredibly useful mass notification tools, emergency managers need to consider a variety of alert technologies.
Published: March 13, 2020

On Jan. 10, 2019, Kevin Limbaugh opened fire and killed Davis, Calif., police officer Natalie Corona. Limbaugh fled, sparking a city-wide manhunt that ended hours later when he killed himself.

During the hours-long chaos, the University of California, Davis — which is just blocks from where the rookie officer was killed — sent text and email messages to approximately 70,000 students, staff and faculty, warning them the suspected killer was on the loose.

But only a fraction of those 70,000 individuals initially received the critical messages. It wasn’t until almost an hour and 15 minutes after the first message that the entire campus population received the warning.

Cell phones have become incredible tools in our society, but while cell phone alert technology has become popular in recent years, it’s only completely effective with an integrated mass notification system. After all, for students, faculty and staff who don’t have their phones turned on or for those who keep their phones deep inside their backpacks, they will likely never receive the warnings.

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Emergency managers have a variety of alert technologies available and should use more than one to ensure individuals are effectively and sufficiently warned about an impending threat. These technologies blanket an area and can be used to alert students, staff and faculty who are inside multiple campus buildings, as well as outdoor spaces like parking lots, green spaces and more.

Furthermore, these advanced technologies can be used to alert individuals about a variety of threats, including weather-related events like tornadoes and floods, as well as man-made events, like active shooters and more.

These technologies include:

  • Outdoor warning and voice sirens. While some view outdoor warning sirens as archaic, the technology has advanced in recent years to allow numerous customizable voice and tone alerts warning of the many different threats facing campuses. Furthermore, sirens are incredibly effective as they can be often heard indiscriminately over a wide area. With the right control system, emergency managers can also sound these tones and messages indoors through existing speakers.
  • Desktop alerts. Technology now allows emergency messages to deploy pop-up messages in network devices, including computers and other technologies connected to a campus network. Emergency managers can push messages to these devices, warning anyone using a laptop, tablet or other devices. Emergency managers can also integrate smart boards and digital signage into their notifications, alerting those in classrooms or other areas of campus.
  • Mobile alerts. While it’s not recommended to use only mobile alerts, they can be incredibly effective in reaching a population of students, staff and faculty who have access to their phones. Furthermore, technology now allows two-way communication between mobile devices and emergency services, allowing users to provide information that can quickly put emergency alerts into place and mitigate the impact of active shooters or other man-made threats.
  • Intuitive control platforms. Messages are only effective if they quickly reach the intended audience. Advanced control platforms allow emergency professionals to customize their alerts to automatically sound based on weather notifications. Furthermore, emergency personnel can quickly activate alerts based on credible information, targeting only those in an affected area. These alerts can be activated through a variety of platforms, including remotely by cell phone.

When integrated, these technologies create an effective emergency management platform that allows campuses to quickly and easily alert individuals of any impending threat, keeping students, staff and faculty out of harm’s way.

And once an integrated emergency management system is in place (and rigorously tested), emergency managers and campus officials must work to inform students, staff and faculty about the system to ensure buy-in and awareness of the alerts. A system is only effective if individuals understand the threats and the directions provided, which means marketing and building awareness of the system is critical for success.

No one technology should be relied upon independently from an entire integrated system. The short-sighted approach of using only one technology puts individuals in danger and creates risks that can be easily overcome with a fully integrated system.

Richard Roe is the executive vice president of American Signal Corp., a designer and manufacturer of mass notification solutions. 

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