Input from law enforcement has shown that that their main concern is to keep students from entering the hot zone during an emergency. The faster students can be redirected, the easier it is to protect them. However, there are serious gaps in communication systems schools currently employ. First, third-party hosted systems rely on a cell phone, smart phone, or computer to be on to receive emergency notification, however, faculty usually instruct students to turn their devices off or on silent during class. Further, once the general public becomes aware of an emergency, these types of communication systems often become overloaded with increased network traffic. Public systems are actually built to impede widespread messaging and may interpret a general alert message as commercial spam. The fact that the alert message is going out in a linear sequence aggravates the overload situation. Communication is further complicated if the emergency is city-wide, involving more than just the college population. While messages can be launched, there is no guarantee when they are delivered if the network is overloaded. Because the new technology operates on a dedicated network that is not in the public domain and the signal goes out immediately as a wave for any number of “always on” units to receive simultaneously, the incidence of delays, denied access, network overload, crashing or hacking that often plagues typical campus alert systems is a non-issue.
The new keychains and wall units being tested on college campuses not only guarantee immediate message receipt, but also follow-up messaging to control student movement while the situation is developing—the key concern of law enforcement. During the pilot tests, four emergency messages and follow-up directions were received simultaneously within 14 seconds by all participants during a 15-minute test period, with the dispatcher employing one-touch technology. Campus safety personnel confirmed the critical nature of follow-up information can only be successfully managed with technology that delivers emergency messages immediately and simultaneously.
The pilot test revealed the importance of involving more than campus safety personnel in the implementation of an emergency alert system. Facilities management, IT and student deans must work together to be sure the system meets the unique needs of the university and interfaces seamlessly with first responders. Thus, a critical facet of the pilot program was also to tap the expertise of local law enforcement. Some of their concerns include the ability to distribute information immediately, whatever the situation. There are seven primary types of emergencies that law enforcement prepare for: fire and explosions; power outages; large-scale accidents, including the release of toxic materials; natural disasters; violence such as rape, assault or terrorist activities; bomb threat and lockdown; and an armed assailant or hostage situation. In each situation, getting in touch with key leaders outside the law enforcement community is crucial to containing the situation. For example, if there’s a spill in the chemistry building, the campus dispatcher needs to press only one button to notify local police, then point and click on the chemistry building to alert those inside as well as key faculty and area HAZMAT experts. The core idea of this new system is to make the dispatcher’s job as turn-key as possible to marshal forces and address any situation without delay.
Emergencies are rarely static. Their repercussions overflow into multiple environments, necessitating minute-by-minute response from safety professionals. With thousands of students circulating through hundreds of classrooms, a closed, protected and dedicated emergency communication system with a combination of both fixed and mobile alert devices is the next step in every college’s readiness program. One of the most telling outcomes of IntelliGuard’s pilot program was the response from the students, themselves. Test participants were thoroughly engaged in the process, which speaks volumes about their concern about campus safety. The effectiveness of any emergency system increases exponentially if it is embraced by the very people it is trying to help.