red flagAs we claw our way out of the pandemic, there’s no denying that everything has changed, for good. In the past year, we’ve learned to readjust and reprioritize, devising new solutions to new problems with technology. That’s especially true for emergency management.

Earlier this year, Campus Safety published its annual report on how organizations are using emergency notifications. The good news is that campus emergency notification systems performed well during the pandemic, according to survey respondents. The following captures lingering challenges and lessons learned.

Mass notification challenges

Though mostly satisfied with their mass notification systems, survey respondents indicated their emergency notification challenges in three buckets: delays, communicating with off-campus audiences, and technology limitations.

Challenges included:

  • Delays in relaying info to employees and other target audiences when they are not on campus.
  • Delays in planning and implementation of new systems and procedures.
  • Difficulty in communicating fast-changing info on a mass (staff-wide) level.
  • Inconsistent receipt of notifications (e.g., locations where PA system is not heard).
  • Lack of integration/interoperability among technology systems.
  • Difficulty communicating with recipients who aren’t on their phones or computers.
  • Difficulty discerning a fire alarm from a security alarm.
  • Aging fire alarm system that’s prone to failure or has limited capabilities.

Changes to mass notifications

As conditions changed, so did the ways in which organizations used their mass notification systems in the past several months. Changes included:

  • More frequent use for routine communications (not just emergency alerts).
  • Notifications pertaining to COVID-positive cases, quarantine and social distancing instructions.
  • Notifications to aid in scheduling and COVID testing.
  • Last-minute closures, schedule changes, early dismissals.
  • Increased frequency and range of mass notifications.
  • Integration with more technology systems.
  • Broader support from senior leaders and adoption across the enterprise.

Lessons learned

Among lessons learned throughout the pandemic, survey respondents pointed out the following:

  • Recipients don’t always check email, so layering communications in different formats is necessary.
  • Audiences want to receive information as quickly as possible.
  • Simple is better. Pre-scripted messages work best. At the same time, it’s important to be able to build new alert groups and messages quickly and easily.
  • Single sign-on and centralized dashboards facilitate mass notifications a great deal.
  • “There is never too much redundancy.”

As one respondent put it, flexibility is a critical component in emergency management. Like the pandemic, many unknowns will challenge organizations in the future, they said: “Our systems must be flexible to meet these challenges.”

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