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Juliet HulseAug 28, 2019 11:44:25 AM6 min read

Back to School - Preparing Your Emergency Notifications

Fall is an extremely busy time for schools; not only are there new students, faculty, and parents to add or register as emergency notification recipients, but there’s also the possibility of new safety or security personnel to train on emergency response policies. Although it takes time and energy to prepare your pre-planned communications for your organization’s specific needs and policies, you should create a monthly or quarterly schedule for yourself - and your team - to verify and improve specific details pertaining to your emergency notification system (ENS). This allows you to stay ahead of the curve and not feel overwhelmed with your emergency notification system checks, tests, and improvements.


To help get you started, we’re going to split up some action items you should consider. Addressing at the beginning of each semester. They’ll be organized into ways that help you ensure you’ve accomplished what you should in adherence to known best practices...


The best time to develop a message and assign which Groups of people will receive said message is NOT during the emergency.

Before each semester, ensure that each emergency situation documented in your emergency response and action plan has been aligned with the preplanned and templated notifications you are sending through your emergency notification system. Pre-planning your emergency alerts allows you to leverage all the skills, talents, and expertise of your entire emergency response team. A tool like Scenarios helps your team effectively respond even while experiencing the stress and adrenaline of an emergency situation. Creating Groups within your emergency notification system allows you to craft unique messages to different segmentations of people throughout your organization - all based upon the emergency in which you need to notify and respond.


Verify your subscriber registration methods are active and up-to-date.

The two most leveraged ways of subscriber management are Opt-In and Opt-Out. As you know best, not only are students going to ask questions about how to subscribe or how to make sure they’re subscribed but many parents will ask as well. Make this simple for your team and your subscribers by providing the subscriber link on as many resources as possible - on large signage outside and inside buildings, on the homepage of your website, or even have professors show the appropriate URL on the first week of class. Pick up some new tips on how to increase student participation with this Insight. 


Confirm you are getting the word out using whatever path you can.

Your people understand information differently, so to help them all see or hear the emergency alert, you must use as many ways as possible. Reaching everyone in these large, bustling campuses can be a challenge. It requires the capability to deliver emergency notifications via every communication channel available, instantaneously and simultaneously. Check what new integrations around campus you could use to add redundancy to your emergency communication initiatives. Were any new digital signs installed around campus? Are there new desktop computers you could integrate with? Use this checklist to ensure you’re using every integration you can to reach your people. 


Test the ability of your emergency notification system.

Dormitories, apartment buildings, and campus facilities have fire drills within the first month of the semester. Campuses need to conduct similar drills, tests, or exercises with their emergency notification system. You’re not just measuring how fast the word gets out, you are also making sure that your people recognize what the alert means, understand how they will receive it, and are prepared to take the appropriate action. Testing allows you the opportunity to document and analyze the success of each notification method to better understand the most effective methods for communication. System tests are also a great time to review your emergency guidelines with your administrators before an emergency happens. They may know how to initiate a message, but do they know when to use it? 

The start of the new year, a new semester, or a new experience can be an extremely stressful time. Considering the rate at which active shooter events are happening across the U.S., the majority of individuals are even more concerned with safety than ever. There is added pressure on the institution, the safety and security team, and the faculty to be more prepared with their emergency notifications.


Campuses of all types - specifically those in higher education - can struggle to communicate with everyone within their organization. Campuses are known to be large facilities with multiple buildings spread out on several acres. Although you can’t always predict or prevent threats and violent acts made by students, staff, or visitors on or around your campus, you can plan to limit the impact. Campus safety officials have a general obligation to adopt best practices and technologies, as outlined above, that create a safe and secure campus community. 

To learn what more you can do to prepare your organization and your people for any emergency - the before, the during, and the after - check the Critical Communications Cycle eBook.