When someone hasn't experienced a shooting or a natural disaster, the emotion in the midst of a crisis often isn't easily understood. "I believe people think when you have an emergency, you pick up the phone, dial a number and press send," Katsouros says. "I don't think they've thought through the chaos that occurs in an emergency."
He recommends doing as much as possible before an emergency, whether it's prerecording a message or part of a message, or creating preapproved message templates for various scenarios. UI's Hawk Alert uses "blended" messages that combine a prerecorded introduction from the police chief and text-to-speech enunciation and templates for various scenarios.
The near future
Demidont predicts that within six months to a year U.S. notification systems at universities will be tied to multifunction cell phones that can serve as a secure ID, panic device, control building entry, provide computer access and allow instantaneous lockdown. In addition to security features, he says phones will let students do things like charge food to debit cards and check out library books. His prediction is based on the technology already being used in Europe.
In the past, school security systems have focused on protecting the physical assets of a school. Demidont says today the focus has shifted to protecting human assets.
Keeping the phones on
In Potter's classroom, if students have an exam and Potter is concerned students will be tempted to text one another, he will have students turn off their phones — and he'll pay closer attention to who's coming down the hallway. "It's my responsibility if something happens to these students," he says.
And it's a responsibility schools and law enforcement, with new practices and notification system technology, share every day.
Rebecca Kanable is a freelance writer specializing in law enforcement topics. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.