Seven-Layer Saftey

Emergency notification systems and the confusion surrounding them


     Since April 16, a handful of people have come forth in the news to express their objections toward Virginia Tech's information management that infamous morning. Nationwide, students, parents, university officials and law enforcement reopened their eyes to the emergency notification system and the policy's and technologies involved.

     These systems transmit a message to an audience through an integrated component. Deciding on what technology, what audience, what to say in the message and when to say it are only a slice of what universities and law enforcement agencies are being confronted with — with no concise, clear or audible answer available.

     As everything can have positives and negatives, choosing which emergency notification system can be a daunting task when nothing can stand out as a "silver bullet" for public safety.

     "One of the things we, and a lot of other campuses across the country, are realizing is that our systems are probably inadequate," says Assistant Chief Dale Burke of the University of Wisconsin — Madison Police Department. "No matter what we do, there is nothing that's going to reach everybody all the time. But the wider range of options or tools an agency has, the more people that agency will be able to reach."

Acts of notification

     Recently, U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-Illinois) introduced the Campus Law Enforcement Emergency Response Act. In this effort, the act "will ensure that all colleges and universities develop emergency response procedures and campus notification systems, and test them on at least an annual basis." The legislation requires colleges develop and distribute policies for responding to law enforcement emergencies, report on statistics concerning the occurrence of such emergencies, test response procedures at least annually, and provide notification no later than 30 minutes after the discovery of a law enforcement emergency situation.

     But this is not the first time campus or public notification has appeared on the campus-safety radar screen.

     In July 2006, the Warning, Alert and Response Network (WARN) Act was introduced to "establish a voluntary National Alert System to provide a public communications system capable of alerting the public on a national, regional or local basis to emergency situations requiring a public response." The WARN Act discussed a National Alert System's functions, capability and public reception.

     Under the WARN Act, a National Alert System's functions and capabilities are to transmit alerts across a variety of communications technologies to reach the largest portion of the affected population and to incorporate multiple communication technologies and adapt to future technologies.

     Additionally, the WARN Act defines an allowable alert: to notify the public of a hazardous situation that poses an imminent threat to public health or safety; to provide appropriate instructions for actions to be taken by individuals affected or potentially affected by such a situation; to transmit public addresses by federal, state, tribal or local officials when necessary; and to notify the public when the hazardous situation has ended or is brought under control.

     The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, also known as the Campus Security Act, "requires colleges and universities across the United States to disclose information about crime on and around their campuses." Named in memory of a rape and murder victim in 1986, this act calls for an annual report of crime statistics and security policy statements. Reported crimes are to be organized into seven major categories: criminal homicide — murder, nonnegligent manslaughter and negligent manslaughter; sex offenses — forcible sex offenses and nonforcible sex offenses; robbery; aggravated assault; burglary; motor vehicle theft; and arson.

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