Campus Security

How Mass Notification Can Play a Critical Role in Disaster Response

By Paul Shain

When a disaster occurs, schools need every tool at their disposal working towards one goal: keeping everyone safe. While this may seem like common sense, schools often invest too much time and money on different tools that accomplish different tasks to help manage a disaster. This creates an environment of disconnected silos, requiring different logins, different administrators, and even different locations where those tools can be operated, none of which is ideal when time is of the essence. Efficient disaster response requires an easy-to-use, streamlined system that can perform multiple functions simultaneously to get information out as quickly as possible so students and staff can stay out of harm’s way.

That’s why many schools are turning to a mass notification system to help with disaster response. With easy-to-activate triggers, the ability to prebuild message templates for different scenarios and integrations with devices already in place in many school buildings, mass notifications offer a simple way to consolidate tools so that everything is working towards resolving an incident.

When an incident occurs, whether it’s an active shooter, severe weather, or other disaster, notifications can be triggered with the push of a button from mobile and on-premises devices. This allows schools to begin responding to a disaster the moment someone notices an event taking place. When a notification is triggered, it can send out live or recorded audio, text and images to an ecosystem of connected devices. This can include desk phones, overhead paging systems, IP speakers, digital signage, desktop computers and mobile devices. Using multiple devices and delivery methods to send out notifications expands the reach of messages to ensure everyone receives critical information and speeds up the time it takes for people to receive a message, so they begin responding quickly. Being able to reach on-premises and mobile devices has the added benefit of alerting everyone in the immediate area and alerting people who may not be in school buildings at the moment a disaster occurs, preventing them from entering a dangerous situation.

Some schools take this a step further by automating the notification process, to make alerts even more immediate. Certain mass notification tools offer the option of monitoring CAP feeds from the National Weather Service to send out alerts when certain criteria are met. This can give schools advance notice on blizzards that may shut down schools for a day, or excessive heat or cold that may require outdoor events to be cancelled or moved inside to keep everyone protected. This can also extend to devices like security cameras that can monitor for movement in restricted areas or AED cabinets that trigger a contact closure when opened to notify safety teams that a dire situation is taking place.

It can be difficult to know when an incident occurs, which is why many schools also look for mass notification systems that offer alerting options for 911 calls. When someone dials 911 from within a school, an automatic notification can be sent out to security, upper-level administrators and other relevant parties to let them know an emergency is taking place. This helps people within the school take the proper actions and helps them better direct first responders when they arrive at the school.

Following an initial alert, mass notification systems can also help coordinate a school’s disaster response by gathering key stakeholders in virtual collaboration spaces. This could include links to join a Webex, Zoom or Microsoft Teams space. Once everyone is gathered, school leaders can assess the situation and determine the best course of action for deploying a response. Follow up messages can be sent to provide additional details and resources, for example, reunification locations can be shared with parents.

Identifying those stakeholders ahead of time can save time and help create a more comprehensive disaster response plan. Schools that utilize a mass notification system to set up messages for different disasters they may experience will want to gather input from different departments to ensure that every scenario is covered. IT teams and facility managers may have different priorities and insights than security teams and upper-level administrators. The more input a school can gather, the less likely it is that they miss a key area that could leave students and staff exposed to danger.

Disaster response also includes knowing when to return operations to normal, and mass notification systems can help minimize disruptions and get students and staff back to learning safely. When school leaders determine that an incident has ended, mass notifications can be sent out to students, staff and parents. This helps operations resume quickly and provides peace of mind knowing that the incident has been managed from beginning to end.

While developing a disaster response plan may seem like a daunting task, schools that leverage tools like mass notification system can rest easy knowing they have a solution that can help them through every step of the process.

Paul Shain is president and CEO of Singlewire Software, developers of InformaCast.