Emergency Notification Systems can notify a large population within seconds of impending danger. We receive frequent alerts due to weather situations (flooding, severe snowstorms) or because a child is in danger (AMBER alerts). In an education setting, these alert notification systems are used when the safety of a campus or a school is compromised.
These systems have been around for more than forty years but have been implemented faster in education settings since 2000. Two reasons can explain this observation:
- violent incidents in high schools and post-secondary institutions are more numerous than ever; and
- the democratization of technology ensures that people will receive the alerts in a timely fashion.
An Evolving Risk Landscape
Unfortunate events that have taken place on college campuses over recent years have demonstrated the criticality of adequate technologies and communication infrastructures to provide instantaneous alerts in the case of emergencies. ENS specialist Omnilert reveals that more than 37,500 criminal offences were reported on campuses in 2018, along with an astonishing 44,500 on-campus arrests in the US and that 55% of students would not know what to do should an emergency occur in school.
It is a risk landscape that is continuously evolving, forcing higher education providers to prepare appropriately for a diverse range of threats. Examples of these include disease outbreaks, violent protests, extreme weather conditions, cybersecurity breaches, active shooters, bomb threats, etc.
In all such instances, the rapid release of crucial information at the right time and in the right way can maximize safety and minimize (or prevent entirely) loss of life.
How do Emergency Notification Systems Work?
Alert notification systems help create a safer environment for students and staff members. The system will inform them of any threat on the school perimeter with the help of the available technology. Nowadays, most software can communicate with recipients through mass SMS systems or directly via the app installed on students’ smartphones. Other systems will also use the information stored in the student information systems (such as email addresses) to inform their constituents.
To inform students affected by a specific event (a power outage in a building) or to avoid widespread fear (in case of a more dangerous situation), some solutions can even geo-target recipients to ensure only those affected by a situation will be notified. The emergency notification systems can also work with other procedures or tools, such as emergency phones on campus or CCTV systems. Data published by Security Sales reveals that almost 75% of campuses use multiple emergency notification systems instead of a single unified early warning system.
Who Needs an Emergency Notification System?
An emergency notification system should be considered mandatory in any instance where urgent information may need to be passed to a large group of people at the same time at short notice to benefit their health and safety. This includes all educational environments and college campuses but also extends to healthcare facilities, businesses and others.
It is important to remember how the benefits of an effective mass notification system extend beyond warnings of events and emergencies that threaten life. Universities and colleges can use them to transmit messages to select recipients only, providing information on IT issues, schedule changes, etc.
An ENS can be a surprisingly versatile tool – if tailored to meet the needs of the organization or institution in question from scratch.
Choosing the Right Emergency Notification System
Scope for customization and scalability should always be prioritized when selecting systems like these. As the needs of higher education institutions are changing all the time, it is vital to choose a system that can adapt to these shifting requirements accordingly.
Interestingly, a paper published by the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities found that it is far more effective to implement a campus-wide ENS and give students the option to opt-out, out rather than making it optional to opt-in.
“Florida State University uses an opt-out approach, and has an 85% participation rate; UCLA’s Bruin alert system encourages students to register their cell phones, with only a 35% success rate,” reads the report.
In terms of its basic functionality, there are three primary features every emergency notification system should provide: detection, response, and alert.
Detection refers to the capacity of the system to automatically detect unusual, suspicious, or potentially dangerous activity of any kind. Typical examples include door and window opening sensors, gunshot detectors, IT equipment and network alarms, fire detection systems, motion detectors, severe weather early warning systems and panic buttons that can be activated manually.
Where detection occurs, an appropriate response should be triggered automatically and instantaneously. This could include the activation of audible and visual alarms, initiation of sprinklers or fire suppression equipment, closure/opening of doors and windows, immediate power shut-offs, IT system shutdowns, etc.
Per the preferences and requirements, IT personnel can program the system to send alerts to the entire group of people included in the system or select individuals. Alerts can also be automatically sent to the relevant emergency services, such as the fire department in the case of fire detection. Again, these alerts can be automated for sending in the event of a specific scenario or triggered manually in others.
Solutions in the Product Category
Based on the ListedTech database, the alert notification systems implemented in North American institutions could reach 33 million students in 2021 in comparison to 12 million ten years ago. As mentioned in other posts, our database does not have 100% of the market, but these numbers give you an idea of how much these solutions are present on campuses nowadays. While five companies (Blackboard Connect, School Messenger, Safe Schools, Rave Alert and E2Campus) own 75% of the market shares, more than 60 solutions try to get a portion of the remaining 25%.
Our data available on our portal also includes the contract prices. Although these numbers are preliminary, we notice that the contracts mention a cost of under $2/student between 2016 and 2020. The numbers for 2021 and 2022 are too small to mention.
Unfortunate but Essential…
Where emergencies present themselves, the subsequent outcome will almost always be determined by the extent to which it was anticipated and prepared. Unfortunately, far too many higher education providers and businesses, in general, do not make adequate provisions for all possible eventualities.
An emergency notification system for a higher education institution is like any other mandatory insurance policy. You hope you will never have to use it but will be glad you have it if the need arises.