Universities Leverage Notification Systems to Combat H1N1

These best practices can mitigate H1N1 outbreaks on campus while preventing the spread of misinformation, rumors and panic.

H1N1 (swine flu) has spread across campuses nationwide. With large numbers of students living in close quarters, communal restrooms and densely packed parties where cups, cans and glasses are shared, college conditions are ripe for further spreading of the disease.

How do administrators help mitigate H1N1 outbreaks on campus while preventing the spread of misinformation, rumors and panic? Over the past few weeks, we have seen several best practices and case studies worth noting.

Education is Critical

Some universities are providing sanitizers around campus, posting signs about hand hygiene and respiratory etiquette, and establishing “health and wellness” Web pages with details on symptoms and what to do if they think they may be ill. Information is crucial for pandemic preparedness, and how you communicate that information can limit the impact of H1N1 on campus.

Instead of relying solely on surgical masks and hand sanitizers, many campuses are leveraging technology such as emergency notification systems. These systems help activate pandemic plans by sharing H1N1 prevention and treatment information with students and faculty on campus and by maintaining open communication with key audiences at various locations. Notification systems enable colleges to maintain a communication link to limit the possibility of infection and prevent the spread of the H1N1 influenza.

“We found that notification systems not only provide a valuable tool to deliver status updates and reminders on hand hygiene and other tips, but also can help share critical information to prevent panic and limit the impact of a pandemic on campus,” said Dr. Curtis Johnson, the director of Jackson State University’s office of accountability and coordination.

Here are three ways to use emergency notification systems on campus to combat H1N1:

  • Alert students, parents, faculty and staff to changes in campus policies and procedures
  • Provide tips and suggestions on prevention, hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, etc.
  • Inform students about vaccine logistics (locations, times and follow-up shot reminders)

Other potential uses include school closure notifications, policy activation (work/study from home, etc.), remote roll-calling and absenteeism management, flex-staffing – fill teacher absences and shortages by polling professors to determine availability to teach and reporting times – and collaboration with external resources, such as first responders and volunteer groups. State-of-the-art systems offer geographic targeting capabilities to issue notices about specific building closures and quarantine zones in specific geographic areas.

Send the Right Message at the Right Time

“Although emergency notification systems are a powerful tool to educate and communicate with faculty, staff and students, it’s critical to take a measured approach,” said Dr. Robert Chandler, expert and author on pandemic preparedness and director, Nicholson School of Communication, University of Central Florida. “Knowing how often, when and what to say when sending messages is critical in effectively mitigating the effects of a pandemic.”

Added insight and expertise can go a long way when developing and implementing a pandemic-response plan. For instance, some organizations take a blanket approach, sending many notifications with mixed messages or confusing direction, which can often cause message fatigue or even panic. To be effective, it’s important to consider every stage of the pandemic crisis separately as each stage dictates an audience’s information requirements and organization’s response. Administrators who use “message maps” ensure that only the right portion of valuable, pre-approved information is sent through the system. Created prior to emergency situations, message maps are clear, concise messages that simplify complex concepts and speed communication during the chaos of a crisis.

In the end, administrators can’t prevent a flu pandemic such as H1N1, but they can do everything in their power to help guide, advise and protect their students, faculty and staff before, during and after this public health emergency. By adopting a 360-degree approach – sharing best practices, facilitating proper hygiene and vaccinations, and implementing the right technology and techniques to get the right message out that reaches and resonates with a variety of audiences – administrators can be certain that they are taking the right steps to combat a pandemic.

Marc Ladin, is the vice president of global marketing at emergency notification provider, Everbridge.

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Tagged with: Features Pandemic

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