This past Wednesday around 3 p.m., you might have heard a siren wailing on top of the Tutt Library — that was campus safety testing CC’s emergency mass notification system.
Gathered around a cluster of computer monitors in the campus dispatch center, campus safety personnel, including Director of Campus Safety Pat Cunningham, readied themselves to appraise the functionality of the system.
For the most part, everything ran smoothly, but one particular weakness in the system did surface.
The mass notification system sends out information in emergency situations by three methods– a phone call, text, and e-mail. In addition, a PA system in the three main dorms and at various points around campus announce whatever possible threat there may be.
However, the outpour of calls and texts is the final step of the mass notification process.
“We wanted to be sure we had multiple layers in our ability to contact,” said Cunningham.
When a threat is first identified, messages are sent to Cunningham in addition to Assistant Director of Safety Nick Calkins, Emergency Management Team Vish Paradkar and John Lauer, and CSPD Officer Jason Newton.
This redundancy ensures that if an emergency were to take place at 2 a.m. on a Sunday night, at least one of the safety personnel would be able to respond to the issue.
Once the initial message is sent out, a conference call occurs among those who receive the message. From there, through Blackboard Technology’s mass notification program, the officials in the conference call can determine what message needs to be sent out and in what medium.
Campus Safety has been using the Blackboard system for three years.
The key to making the system efficient is to learn from the hard lessons other institutions have experienced, said Cunningham.
“One of the things that some schools ran into was that they only had one person who could activate [the notification system],” Cunningham said. “If you can’t get a hold of that person, that’s a problem.”
Other schools have also had issues with keeping emergency information up-to-date in real time.
“The Blackboard system is updated from [the Self-Service] Banner everyday, therefore contact information stays current,” said Cunningham.
This allows messages to be sent out efficiently and to the right recipients. The second tier to be contacted in the notification system is the executive administration.
“We then can bring Dean Edmonds or Jill [Tiefenthaler] into the conference call so we can update them,” said Cunningham. “…It’s important to get good, effective communication to the key players early and then to get that communication out to the community as quick as possible.”
The idea behind the flurry of messages sent out by the system is to encourage personal communication – checking on a friend, for example – so that everybody on campus has an opportunity to hear of a possible threat.
Cunningham suggests that once you have been notified of the threat, you should check online via e-mail for updates on the situation.
However, there were some issues with the testing of the system. The PA on top of top of the Tutt Library produced a sharp siren, but failed to voice any message.
“This is why we test,” said Cunningham, “to identify any problems.”