Many colleges and universities across the country are turning to emergency notification systems as one answer to the increasingly complex issue of campus safety and crisis communications. The best emergency notification systems are those that broadcast alerts using multiple communication channels thereby increasing the chance intended recipients will get the message.
“To illustrate the increase in campus adoption, over one million emergency alerts were sent in February alone,” said Ara Bagdasarian, CEO of Omnilert.
Students prefer to receive an alert on a cell phone as a text message, while a professor may need to hear an alert over the internal PA system. Staff members at home or the office may prefer to get a phone call, while visitors walking around campus need to either see an alert on a digital sign or hear an alert from a rooftop-mounted loudspeaker.
Additionally, the Omnilert notification system has a feature called SEED that can automatically include every single school email address in the alert, so students can get the alert even if they have not signed up for text message alerts. For students who have not opted-in to the system, they may also see the alert on a digital sign or hear the alert over the loudspeaker or PA system.
This is the power of a multi-modal emergency notification system – alerts are delivered in the way the recipient needs to receive it.
State and Federal Governments Respond
In January of this year, the Louisiana State Purchasing Office issued a statewide contract that enables any state college or university to immediately purchase the Omnilert emergency notification service without the need for an RFP as was previously required.
In Pennsylvania, the state legislature passed House Resolution No. 232 that urges colleges and universities in Pennsylvania to implement campus security alert systems in order to warn campus communities of impending danger.
The Commonwealth of Virginia passed Senate Bill No. 538 that requires an emergency notification system at every public institution of higher education by January 1, 2009.
Last week, Federal Communications Commission approved a plan to be implemented by 2010 for a new nationwide emergency text-message alert system.
Recent Public Safety Emergencies
Just two weeks ago, the Omnilert emergency notification system helped nab a wanted suspect at Millersville University in Pennsylvania. The university issued mass text messages to students that it was going into lockdown and to look out for a named suspect. Armed with this information, students spotted the wanted individual and called police with his exact location.
Also two weeks ago, Eastern Washington University used Omnilert for a bomb threat in the campus library. Additionally, they have sent alerts for various weather-related closings.
In February, Ferrum College in Virginia comforted students during an all-day lockdown via mass text messages. As students were sheltered in place, the college issued updates as news developed.
In September of 2007, the College of Notre Dame of Maryland used multi-modal alerts to warn students of an intruder on campus and to shelter in place.
Florida A&M University has used the Omnilert system for bomb threats, loose pit bulls, hurricane advisories, and a nearby shooting.
Penn State has used Omnilert for tornado warnings, road closures due to downed live power lines, and a handful of closures and delays due to snow storms.
University of New Mexico used Omnilert the day after purchasing it for a chemical spill on campus. UNM only had the system for one day, yet were still able to alert 99% of the students by using SEED feature. Students who had signed up for alerts received news of the chemical spill as a text message on their phone and subsequently warned others around them.
SUNY New Paltz has sent Omnilert notifications four times this winter for weather related closings. They also used it to alert campus officials to activate their Red Cross Shelter during a recent flood. SUNY New Paltz has 99% coverage of students, faculty and staff included in emergency alerts with the use of the SEED feature. 95% of freshmen have signed up for mobile phone alerts and the school has plans to insert the signup process into online class enrollment for even wider adoption of mobile alerts.