How to Implement an Effective Emergency Notification Program on Campus
These best practices will help to ensure your emergency notification messages will reach the right people at the right time.
Implementing emergency notification systems and processes that will quickly alert everyone on a college campus about an emergency is no easy feat. Furthermore, institutions of higher education that don’t promptly and appropriately send out emergency alerts run the risk of violating the Clery Act.
Fortunately, there are some best practices that a university can adopt to optimize its program, whether the campus is augmenting its current mass notification program or starting from scratch.
First and foremost is the need to deploy multiple types of technologies from different manufacturers. For example, a university might consider utilizing a SMS text/email alerting system from Company A, digital signage from Company B, a public address system from Company C and a voice evac system from Company D. Other types of technologies that might be implemented to achieve a holistic emergency response program include emergency notification and personal safety apps, social media platforms, pop-up computer messaging, phone trees, outdoor loudspeakers, call boxes, TV and radio announcements, weather radios and more. The exact mix of technologies used depends on the individual campus and its specific needs.
Having a good mix helps to ensure that the strengths of one solution can compensate for the weaknesses of others. For example, text alerting systems usually require members of the community to register for the service, so an emergency text message most likely won’t reach visitors or other individuals who are not registered in the system. Text alerts also won’t reach community members who have silenced or turned off their cell phones. Digital signage and loudspeakers, however, can compensate for these weaknesses because, unlike SMS alert systems, neither of these solutions requires registration. Additionally, they are rarely, if ever, silenced or turned off.
Of course, digital signage and loudspeakers have their weaknesses too. Digital signage cannot be read by the visually impaired, and loudspeaker messages can’t be heard by the hearing impaired. To compensate for these weaknesses, other types of emergency notification solutions must be implemented. Another downside to digital signage and speakers is that the message recipient must be in the technology’s proximity in order to receive the message in a timely manner, which might not be the case on a sprawling college campus.
Another important factor to consider is integration. All of the technologies deployed should be able to work together and deploy messages quickly and simultaneously. If they can’t, campus public safety officials might be required to activate each system separately, which is time consuming and decreases the effectiveness of emergency notification.
Policies that support emergency notification are also important. For example, long before a crisis happens, a campus should determine who has the authority to issue alerts, and those individuals shouldn’t just be the college president, dean or police chief. What if they can’t be reached when disaster strikes? If they are away, someone in a more junior position should have authority to send out an emergency message. Some campuses are now even authorizing their dispatchers to issue alerts. In addition, having pre-written, pre-approved communications and messages can help speed up the process when an emergency strikes.
There are many other technical and policy issues that should be addressed when implementing or upgrading an emergency notification system, and a trusted integrator can help in this process. STANLEY Security partners with institutions of higher education to develop customized mass notification programs for their campuses. By developing functional standards across the campus, a cohesive emergency alert and security program can be put in place that will ensure the entire campus community will be promptly notified when a crisis happens.
There are many electronic security and communications solutions available for all areas of a campus, and STANLEY Security frequently provides the following systems to its higher education partners:
- Access Control Systems
- Video Surveillance Cameras and Video Monitoring
- Intrusion Alarm Systems
- Standards Development and Strategic Planning
- Software Support, Consultation and Integration
- Personal Safety and Security Response Mobile Apps
- Mass Notification and Emergency Communication
- Lock Down Solutions
- Custom System Integration
- Fire Alarm Systems and Regular Tests and Inspections
- 24 Hour UL and ULC Monitoring Services
- System Consultation, Design and Installation
- Preventive Maintenance and Service Plans
For more information on the solutions you can implement on your campus, or for educational resources on improving your security program, visit STANLEY Security at stanleycss.com.
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Campus Safety magazine is another great resource for public safety, security and emergency management professionals. It covers all aspects of campus safety, including access control, video surveillance, mass notification and security staff practices. Whether you work in K-12, higher ed, a hospital or corporation, Campus Safety magazine is here to help you do your job better!