Higher education institutions face the unique challenge of keeping an entire campus community safe. In the event of an active shooter, campus evacuation, or weather-related emergency, campus safety officials need to be able to reach students, faculty, staff, and visitors across a large area and multiple facilities immediately.
Relying solely on personal notification for emergencies can limit your campus’ ability to reach intended audiences and can pose specific challenges, including restricted phone access in classrooms and cellular network failures during emergencies.
In the following example, Washington University in St. Louis was able to use a mass notification solution to increase campus safety for students, faculty, and visitors.
The university was looking for a comprehensive, unified emergency mass notification system that could be used to alert the campus community both quickly and easily. With several segmented programs already in place, it was essential that the new system allow for integration across the board.
According to Mark Bagby, director of emergency management at Washington University in St. Louis: prior to 2007, the university had a notifier product that handled text and email. The product was troublesome because users would have to opt in. As a result, only about 10 percent of the campus received mass notifications. Next, the university switched to a different system, which provided a little more flexibility; tying it into the human resource and student information system databases was possible. From that point forward, the system became opt out. That was how the university reached the campus community on an individual level (text, email, or voice call).
The university also had outdoor warning sirens the could be set off with voice or siren tone. The county would even set them off for severe weather. For some time that worked well enough, but officials constantly would get feedback from faculty, staff, and students that they didn’t get an alert—feedback such as “I was in the basement” or “I was in a class where the professor said to turn off your cell phone.”
The university’s main challenge was that these systems were separate. In order to send an alert, administrators had to log into each system and go through each’s individual protocol to send an alert. Sometimes it would take up to 30 minutes to get an alert sent. The university decided to look for a way to condense the system and get down to an efficient approach: one dashboard, easy to use, and secure.