Q&A Responses for the Aug. 31, 2011 Mass Notification Webinar

Here are our panelists’ responses to several additional questions from the audience of our “Making Sense of Mass Notification Policies” Webinar.

To view the original broadcast, which was sponsored by Amerilert/e2Campus, IML Corp. and Metis Secure, click here.

Question: Does anyone have requirements that someone from the senior administration give approval for each message or is every message sent out without approval?­

Answer (from David Burns, UCLA):

In general terms, once the decision is made to issue an emergency notification and any related follow-up messages under the Higher Education Act (HEOA), the administration is no longer involved. This frames the need to have messages pre-scripted and organized for a wide variety of scenarios.

Ohio State mentioned their policy is treated as a public safety issue. UCLA is similar, in that once we confirm an emergency is occurring, we take immediate action, and using pre-scripted messages allows us to promptly issue mass warnings.

The primary goal in issuing emergency messages is to save time. If every message and follow up was screened by administrators, we would lose valuable time in issuing prompt messages.

This does not preclude campus administration from issuing a follow-up or general message of concern by the communication’s office to the campus community.  That is much different than a mass warning.

Question: How do you, if at all, handle dissemination of graphical info, like exit path directions­?

Answer (from David Burns, UCLA):

Exit paths should be pre-planned. Since we know people will be at various areas of the campus at any given time of the day (morning, noon, meals and evening), students, faculty and staff should have a plan in their mind depending on their geographic locations.

A student may take a completely difference course or exit strategy at their resident hall, than they would take in the classrooms, or the cafeteria, study halls, or other venues on campus.

Mass notifications would announce the location of the crisis and generally tell people in these affected areas to take appropriate action (shelter-in-place, evacuate, secure & deny entry, etc.)

Answer (from John Hauser, U. of Nebraska Medical Center):

We give information on where the event is occurring and directions like “stay aware” or evacuate. In our orientation material, we ask them to familiarize themselves with the areas they frequent so they know the locations of all the exits. It is difficult to give directions on exit routes during an event because those receiving the emergency notifications will be located all over the place.

Answer (from David Bujak, Florida State):

The RSS feed that populates our http://alerts.fsu.edu/ can include images, tables, hyperlinks, etc. We routinely include graphical information such as hurricane paths, radars, etc in our posts. 

The key is that many institutions have a dedicated Web page (e.g. alerts.fsu.edu) where the campus is trained to go for emergency information.  Even if you edit the page manually (HTML), you can place graphics, images, videos, etc there.  

All of our delivery methods point the recipient back to alerts.fsu.edu. So, regardless if it is sirens, text, E-mail, etc… everything says “Go to alerts.fsu.edu for more information.”

Question: If an emergency situation occurs during the summer, spring break, etc. when some students are on campus but many are not, should you still send an alert to all students, even though most are not in danger? How do you advise to handle such situations?

Answer (from David Burns, UCLA):

We would issue the same warning to the campus community. Many people know they are not at campus, but the messages usually cannot be tailored to target people who may be at home or off-campus during the summer.

Our campus community includes faculty and staff, and many will remain on campus, regardless of the season.

Answer (from Bob Armstrong, Ohio State):

Any time we have an emergency on campus that requires notification, we send it to all students/faculty/staff. Since we do not know when they are on/off campus, we would rather over-notify than under-notify.

The few complaints we might get are easily handled by speaking to them and explaining that until they allow us to install a GPS tracking device under their skin, we don’t know if they are here or not. 

Question: How should ICT requirements be prepared for mass notification?  What level of bandwidth is required (regarding campus area networks, LANs and WANs), and is an Internet Protocol-based system best?  

Answer (from David Burns, UCLA):

As an end user, this just confirms the need for your IT experts to be involved with your vendor and the MNS system planning. The vendor sets the minimum requirements to make their proprietary systems work, our IT experts office advise on what systems can be used. Together, they would work together to find the proper resources, using the desired path (WAN, LAN, IP, Power over Ethernet, etc.)

Question: Given your explanation of Crime Alert meaning Timely Warning  vs. Alert meaning Emergency, do you use your BRUIN Alert, or texting system for Timely Warnings or do you utilize softer warning modes?

Answer (from David Burns, UCLA):

The police department Clery administrator at UCLA handles the issues of notices, Timely Warnings and other advisories. This would mean the situation is not immediately life threatening or the campus community is not in any imminent risk of harm.

The Clery Act is very clear on Timely Warnings (source – DOE Handbook for Campus Safety & Security)

“The Clery Act requires you to alert the campus community to certain crimes in a manner that is timely and will aid in the prevention of similar crimes. Although Clery doesn’t define “timely,” because the intent of a warning regarding a criminal incident(s) is to enable people to protect themselves this means that a warning should be issued as soon as the pertinent information is available.”

Campuses are required to disclose a policy statement in their annual Clery security reports that accurately reflects the timely warning procedures currently utilized by the institution.

An example of timely warning might be issued for a strong-armed robbery in a campus parking lot (someone demands your iPod, takes it and runs away). If the situation does not create an imminent risk of harm to people, then the campus may issue a timely warning advisory in several hours that may include:

  • a campus public safety advisory issued on the campus website(s);
  • e-mail’s to the campus community, and other venues;
  • leaflets and posters in the affected area;
  • other means as defined in current policy.

If the situation is not deemed an imminent risk to the health and safety of the community, we would not use the BruinAlert system but would use other “softer” resources to advise the campus community under timely warning. Again, we would follow our defined policy. Policy te
lls the campus what you are going to do in emergencies and in Timely Warning situations.

Clear policy defines the actions that are going to be taken in various scenarios. Situations that meet imminent risk, are situations where the mass warning system would be immediately implemented (within minutes of occurrence).

Question: I work in the state of Michigan. We have NO severe weather warning on campus or in the city in which our college is based. We have only texting and computers to get our emergency notices out… I have so many questions… Is there Fed funding to get started­?

Answer (from Bob Armstrong, Ohio State):

We faced a similar issue. While Franklin County has outdoor sirens, they are very spotty and they sound for the whole county, not by area. So it is possible that a tornado could be on the ground 20 miles from us, heading away from campus and the sirens will still sound on campus.

We are in the process of partnering with our text messaging vendor to provide weather alerts as an opt-in service. When the NWS issues a tornado or T-Storm warning, and our campus is in the “cone” /path, a text will automatically be sent to anyone on campus who has registered.

If you haven’t already discussed this possibility with your text vendor, you may want to do so. The other thing we did was purchase a weather radio for all residential dorms and several large offices.

Question: I have also read that the fed gov will make it mandatory for a tornado warning system by the first of the year­. Also, why only AM radio? Most people only listen to FM­.

Answer (from Bob Armstrong, Ohio State):

I have not heard the federal requirement for tornado warning, however, you may be able to satisfy any requirement with a weather radio in each building.

We use an AM radio station because it is a low-powered “travelers radio,” sort of like at the airport or in national parks where they provide information over a radio station. It is pretty cheap , but we are only allowed to use it for parking/directions and in emergencies.

If we went the way of an FM radio, it would be a LOT more expensive. We still have our WOSU FM station as the official radio station for emergency info, it’s just that we can control and post very current info on the AM station, since we own it.

On a day-to-day basis, it has a basic message on how to get around campus that repeats every 2 minutes.

Question: Do you do anything different for the hearing impaired or sight impaired?­

Answer (from Bob Armstrong, Ohio State):

Our text/voice notification system is TTY capable. Plus, we offer both text and voice to those who need one or the other due to a disability. (Most of the rest of campus can only choose text).

We work with our campus disabilities coordinator to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide information to those who want it. I would strongly recommend that you include someone from disabilities services on your EOC/ emergency notification committee. They can provide a lot of insight and they can be a fantastic liaison to those with disabilities on your campus.

Answer (from John Hauser, U. of Nebraska Medical Center):

This is why we do multi-mode messages. We have the ability to do text paging to those who cannot hear and voice messaging to those who cannot see.

In cases where we have employees, we work with the departments to make sure these folks can get the alerts where they are located. One department that has hearing impaired employees who work independently provides the employees with alpha-numeric pagers that are registered to receive our alerts. They also use them to dispatch and alert their staff of situations affecting their department.  

We have also ask folks to share the emergency information with others.

Question: What is done today to deal with multi-language situations as many university campuses might have students from foreign countries where English is not their first language?­

Answer (from John Hauser, U. of Nebraska Medical Center):

We require those on campus to be competent with English as a second language. We try to make sure those from other countries understand the types of emergencies we have in our area, like severe weather and tornado warnings. We have done specific face-to-face orientation sessions for those departments that have foreign student programs. Doing it face-to-face helps us to make sure the information we are giving is understood.    

The hospital has challenges with some of the patients and their families. Some of the specialty programs bring in people from around the world. In those cases, they have interpreters and language services they can access that will help interpret the messages.  

View the archived broadcast of “Making Sense of Mass Notification Policies”

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