A few days ago, Campus Safety published the feedback of nearly 600 school, university, and healthcare safety/security professionals on their use of emergency notifications. The survey revealed nearly 3 in 4 campuses use two or more emergency notification systems, with 21% using four or more systems.

Results raised a few questions:

  • Why layer multiple systems?
  • Why do some campuses use a single (or no) notification system?
  • What’s working (or not) for most organizations?
  • What are leading considerations for choosing an emergency notification system?

All things considered, “it appears some schools, universities and healthcare facilities might need a friendly reminder about the importance of having several alert systems deployed,” wrote Robin Hattersley-Gray, editor for Campus Safety.

Let’s take a deeper look.

Why layer multiple systems?

During an emergency — think weather event, road construction, building malfunctions, violent incident, closures or a slew of other scenarios — you have a tight window to alert affected audiences to prevent harm or, at best, avoid significant inconveniences.

When those alerts are issued, intended recipients might be at different locations, distracted, or faced with communication barriers, as is the case with blind, deaf or hard-of-hearing individuals. It’s not a stretch to think other variables like dead phones or technology snafus could further prevent people from noticing or receiving critical alerts when they need it.

Layering emergency alerts (i.e. sending your message through multiple vehicles and formats) is how you counter potential weakness or blind spots so no message or recipient falls through the cracks.

In other words, if a deaf person can’t hear your audible notification, they still have a visual format. If someone’s phone is dead, they still have LED signage or PA alerts, and so on.

“Most organizations that participated in the survey appear to understand that it is wise to adopt multiple types of emergency notification systems so the weakness of one solution can be balanced by the strengths of others,” the report reads.

Typical uses

According to survey participants, most common uses are active shooter/assailant emergencies and lockdowns, with more than 80% of respondents saying they’ve issued emergency notifications for those scenarios. Other uses cited in the survey include sexual assaults, missing patients and students, and abducted infants.

“K-12 respondents are much more likely to use their emergency notification systems for non-emergency — 32%, compared to 14% for hospitals and 10% for colleges and universities,” the magazine reports. Non-emergency alerts can include things like event reminders, program updates, product availability, approaching deadlines, venue changes, and more.

Single (or no) system adopters

In this year’s survey, 1 in 4 respondents said their organization only uses one alert system, and 3% said they don’t use any emergency notification system at all. Participants who indicated they use nothing are all K-12 and healthcare organizations, and funding seems to be the greatest barrier.

“The data indicates that most of the survey participants with zero or only one type of system are probably aware of their organization’s mass notification system shortcomings,” the article reads. Most of those respondents also rated their emergency notification solution as “completely ineffective” or only “somewhat effective.” Despite widespread awareness that campuses need several types of security solutions, some organizations have not made that investment.

Integrations still lag

Last year’s survey found half of respondents with multiple emergency notification systems haven’t integrated their solutions. That’s mostly because of limited funds and system incompatibility, say 2020 participants.

When asked which technologies they’d like to integrate with mass notification solutions, 68% said smartphones/mobile devices, 55% said door locking/security systems, and 54% said overhead paging systems.

Leading concerns, wish list items

When considering a mass notification solution, respondents said their greatest concerns are as follow:

  • 63%: inability to notify every student, faculty, staff member and visitor in an emergency
  • 55%: restrictions in certain emergency situations (e.g. electrical power out, cell towers jammed, phone lines down, no internet access)
  • 35%: high cost to renew services and/or licenses
  • 32%: lack of outdoor coverage
  • 20% overuse of the alerting system resulting in population ignoring it
  • 15%: limited access to cell phones
  • 13%: inability to notify people with impaired vision or hearing
  • 9%: vulnerability to sabotage or hacking
  • 9%: other

Magnifying technologies you already own

Though not covered in the survey, one way your organization can increase mass notification capabilities and integrations without a big investment is by using disparate systems you already own, and applying software to make them “talk” with one another.

Below is an illustration of systems that can be integrated for added functionality and automations, regardless of their make/model:

MassNotification WholePie Labels

Among the lessons we’ve learned in 2020 is that adequate emergency preparation, response and digital integrations can make a world of difference in the physical and financial health of people and organizations.

They can also make the difference between organizations that can thrive past seasons of chaos and uncertainty.


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