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When crises strike, rushing to compose emails, make calls, and update social media accounts while muttering a prayer under your breath doesn’t cut it when you have minutes (or seconds!) to broadcast critical or life-saving information. Beyond the potential human cost, slow or inadequate emergency communications have a way of triggering public relations disasters-something you never want to happen under your watch.

But knowing exactly what you need and how to use it can be tricky. What’s vital, and what’s a luxury when it comes to emergency communications? How do you avoid waste without compromising safety, operations, and compliance?

It’s helpful, of course, to consider how your peers have used their emergency communication systems, and what they’ve learned along the way. Lucky for you, that’s exactly the kind of input Campus Safety gathered from school and college officials, which we summarize below.

One caveat: Campus size, location, and other variables make it impossible to come up with average costs or solutions that work for everyone. Still, there’s much you can learn from how educators are benefitting from emergency notification systems.

The basics:

Common alert types used by surveyed schools:

  • Digital display interfaces
  • In-building announcement system
  • Automated phone, text, email notifications
  • Social media updates
  • Emergency alert apps
  • Indoor & outdoor alert sirens

What they’re used for:

  • Crime notifications
  • Weather-related notifications
  • Road closings, construction, traffic alerts
  • Event & deadline reminders

Lessons learned:

>> Periodical assessments enable you to accurately forecast needs.

John Venutti, chief of police at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), tells Campus Safety that instead of installing 11 outdoor sirens, as VCU had done in the past, they decided to conduct a sound propagation study first.

The result? They didn’t need 11 sirens. Investing in that assessment, he says, enabled VCU to replace the entire system and provide better coverage throughout the campus for a lot less money.

>> Standardization curbs costs.

It’s common sense, but not common practice: A school with multiple campuses or locations can save money on equipment purchase, installation, and maintenance when buying for the entire organization at once.

>> Mass notification systems can enhance both emergency & non-emergency communications.

Each day, your organization must broadcast information to keep operations smooth. Why not let mass notification systems work for both emergency and non-emergency announcements?

The Grand Rapids Public School system is doing just that, using mass notifications to alert students and their families of road closings, weather-related issues, parent meetings and athletic event reminders.

On the flip side, if you already have mass notification components like digital displays to convey routine information, maximize that investment by enabling automated emergency notifications on it as well.

>> Layering reduces gaps and blind spots.

Phones die, email isn’t always accessible, and not everyone in your audience can see or hear alerts when you issue them.

For that reason, layering numerous types of alerts is your best bet for effective emergency communications, so no message or person falls through the cracks.

>> Effective mass notification systems boost brand awareness.

Effective, layered mass notifications not only keep your audiences safe, but also increases their trust in your organization.

Your proactive alerts send a message that you care about the people you serve, and help counter inaccurate rumors spread by the media or social networks.

For Dave Bujak, emergency manager at FSU, the benefits of layered emergency notifications to the FSU brand are undeniable: “Even guests on campus tours are introduced to [our emergency notification] systems, especially on days when weather may interrupt the tour,” he shares. “We promote it everywhere, every chance we get. While it is not the make-or-break factor, it certainly plays into the comfort factor a student and their family has when they consider the institution.”
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What’s one thing you can tweak or upgrade in your emergency communications systems today to enable greater safety, smoother operations, and stronger brand awareness?