5 Best Practices in Emergency Alerting at Universities/Colleges

It seems that campus shootings and emergencies continue to occur. The US govt has mandated that all educational institutions including schools, colleges and universities put in place emergency notification procedures to avoid such tragedies as Virginia Tech, and Illinois. In the case of Virginia Tech, an email was sent immediately after the first shooting in the dorm and that email took 2 hours to reach its intended recipients – within those 2 hours, another 31 students were killed. Here are 5 rules of thumb to consider as you are implementing a mass emergency notification plan for your campus:

#1 Have an Emergency Plan & Team – Every campus should have a multi-disciplinary team responsible for the first notifications to the campus population and reaching first responders (police, EMS, fire, etc.). This team must put together a plan for emergencies such as fire in a lab or to deal with a hostile shooter or other threat. This plan must be reviewed and owned by the administration of the academic institution (be it Principal, President, etc.), the students, the faculty and operations personnel.

#2 Leverage Existing Infrastructure at the College / University – WiFi / Email / Voice – Campuses have WiFi networks, Email and Voice networks. These can be leveraged to deliver emergency alerts to the campus population in the first few minutes of an emergency. These will likely save people’s lives.

#3 Have multiple Emergency Alerting Pathways – WiFi / Email / SMS/ Voice – As per practice #2 – campuses spend millions of dollars on infrastructure. Many vendors will work with existing networks and all possible alerting pathways should be leveraged. Indeed Virginia Tech now has 4 methods of alerting including SMS, Email, Voice, Loud Speaker and Whiteboard monitors.

#4 Run through Emergency Exercises to Ensure Campus Population is Aware of Plan – It is difficult to have a plan that unpracticed. In an effort to avoid disruption to student and faculty, many campuses do not run drills. This is a mistake as practice makes perfect. Every term should include a drill of the emergency notification system of the campus.

#5 Review Emergency Plan with local Emergency Forces – Police / EMS / Fire – Finally, the first responders in an emergency will be police, EMS and fire personnel. It is important that they be aware of the campus plan in case of an emergency and any vital early information that they may need to mitigate the risk to students and faculty be collected through the emergency team.

… Dr. Sue Abu-Hakima, CEO Amika Mobile.

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