Emergency Notification Systems and Crisis Communication – Blog

The Clery Act in a Virtual World

Cassie Jackson By Cassie Jackson

We recently teamed up with the safety experts at Margolis Healy to present “Clery Act Compliance: Risk and the Current Environment.” The webinar examined the Clery Act, reviewed its history, structure, and best practices for compliance, as well as its enforcement in a world of virtual learning.


What is the Clery Act?


Signed in 1990, the Clery Act was enacted in response to the 1986 rape and murder of Jeanne Clery, a student at Lehigh University. The Clery Act is intended to ensure the safety of students and faculty on college and university campuses. It requires schools to report on incidences of crime, warnings to their community of dangers nearby, and emergency planning initiatives. Complying with the Clery Act makes campuses safer, holds administrations accountable for the well-being of their students and employees, and requires a team of executors to work together and develop a safety network.


Several steps should be taken to comply with the Clery Act and ensure the safety of the community. Each institution should track changes to the Act and the compliance requirements. The Clery Act requirements for the creation and distribution of an annual security report, a daily crime log, and the publishing of data ensures that colleges and universities acknowledge incidents occurred on or near campus. Perhaps, the most important facet of the Clery Act is for campus administration to provide emergency alerts and issue timely warnings for active threats. If this had happened in the case of Jeanne Clery, the tragedy may have been prevented.


The Clery Act and Campus Mass Notifications


An emergency notification should be sent out when there is a danger to the community that has a direct impact on the campus. This could be a physical threat, such as an active shooter situation; a natural threat, such as a tornado; or other dangers, such as the COVID-19 outbreak. The campus mass notifications should be sent out as soon as reliable confirmation of the threat is received.


Transparency and communication are key in complying with the Clery Act and ensuring the safety of students, faculty, and visitors to campuses. In order to enforce the Clery Act, the Department of Education may conduct inquiries and audits, request documents, such as Clery Act crime reports, and fine institutions that have not met the standards dictated by the Act.


The Importance of Safety Drills


Compliance with the Clery Act includes conducting annual safety exercises and drills outside of actual emergencies that might inadvertently "test" the systems. Therefore, each school should not only publish emergency plans, but also drill them to ensure all parties know their roles and collaborate with local police, fire departments, and emergency crews. Backups and flexibility should be built into these systems.


The concept of ‘temporal compression’ emphasizes that hindsight is 20/20. In order to avoid errors that could be devastating in an actual emergency, exercises and drills should be scheduled in advance, have measurable goals, undergo outcome assessments, and be followed by recap activities. Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, institutions must still comply with the Clery Act and conduct safety exercises. However, in a virtual world these exercises and the notifications that prompt them will look different.


The Clery Act and COVID-19


In a new learning landscape where students may attend class virtually, avoid gatherings in large groups, and undergo virus tests weekly or monthly, distributing information widely and quickly is a must. Campus emergency alert systems to send pandemic communications and timely warnings to college communities are more important than ever. Companies like Omnilert ensure that every student and faculty member can be alerted to any threat or danger at any time via their computer, phone, or other mobile device. By helping institutions create safer communities on campus, comply with the Clery Act regulations, and avoid painful audits and emergency missteps, emergency notification systems for schools is critical for any college or university inviting students and employees back this semester, whether it be in-person or virtual.


Preparing for college can seem especially difficult in 2020, but the Clery Act still conveys important lessons and relevant regulations for the world of higher education.


Campus Safety Resources


The Culture of Respect Engagement Blueprint (CORE Blueprint) is a six-pillar evidence-based framework that can guide institutions in how to respond to and prevent campus violence:


1. Positive survivor support with options on reporting


2. Clear policies on campus investigation, adjudication and penalties


3. Robust, multi-tiered education at all university levels


4. Public disclosure of assault statistics and information


5. School-wide mobilization in partnership with campus organizations and student leadership


6. On-going self-assessment



You may also be interested in reading The Definitive Guide to Pandemic Communications

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