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Timely Warning vs. Emergency Notification: What’s the Big Difference?

Knowing when and how to apply these two different requirements will help you to comply with the Clery Act.

The reason for this additional step is that while the content of a timely warning isn’t prescribed by Clery guidelines, it is generally expected that it will contain more guidance than may be possible in an immediate emergency situation. This, for example, may include information about how to avoid future victimization or contact points for reporting information or seeking assistance. There either may not be time to craft something specific for an emergency notification that goes into this additional level of detail, or it may not be easily transmitted through some of the channels used — such as text messages or a public address system, which may be immediate but limit content.

There could also be a sequence of events that do warrant both an emergency notification and a timely warning. A gun wielding individual on campus, for example, may warrant an emergency notification before anyone is actually shot. If that same individual subsequently shoots and wounds someone, then that Clery crime — either aggravated assault if the victim isn’t killed or homicide if the victim is killed — would warrant a timely warning if the suspect remains at-large.

Related Article: Clery Compliance — Emergency Response, Notification Guidelines

Timing of Emergency Alerts Can Vary
Emergency notifications are triggered as soon as there is confirmation of a dangerous situation or emergency. In the case of an active shooter, this may
be as soon as campus police identify that there are shooting victims with an unknown suspect at-large. This may occur in minutes. In the case of an outbreak of a communicable disease, this may not happen until medical test results come back after a day.

Timely warnings are triggered as soon as the pertinent information is available. In the case of an armed robbery, this may occur as soon as a report is made to campus police within minutes following the incident. In the case of a series of burglaries of residence hall rooms, this may not occur until they are all reported and a pattern is recognized, which may be two to three days after the incidents have occurred.

Campuses Must Be Adaptable to Changing Technology
As technology continues to evolve and afford institutions newer, faster channels to disseminate information, the expectations of campus communities as well as Education Department officials are likely to continue to evolve along with it. In the early 1990’s — before the widespread adoption of E-mail and well before cell phone text messaging — flyers were widely accepted for issuing timely warnings. While flyers are still used, communities now expect E-mails and text messaging at a minimum. The next technology will push the disclosures even further.

Ultimately both the emergency notification and timely warning provisions are about making sure campus community members have truly prompt information about a full range of threats to their safety so they can make informed decisions about protecting themselves. The key to success is establishing consistent, up-to-date policies and practices that are well understood by campus officials charged with implementing them as well as by the campus community at-large.


S. Daniel Carter is the director of the 32 National Campus Safety Initiative VTV Family Outreach Foundation.

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