Repairing the Communication Gap
Virginia Commonwealth University upgrades mass notification system
- By Greg Smith
- April 19, 2017
Over the past decade, an increase in the frequency of on-campus violence has revealed the inadequacies of traditional methods of emergency mass notification. As the number of potential threats to campus safety grows, so too does the need for a system capable of sending a message to an entire campus community when it matters most. Virginia Commonwealth University recognized this need for an increase in campus safety and saw the next step in emergency notification technology in Alertus.
Campus Type: urban Enrollment: 32,436
Campus Size: 140.6 acres
Building Count: 201
VCU’s urban location and massive size presented numerous potential threats to campus safety. The university’s previous method of notification, SMS alerting, was plagued by low student opt-in, cell signal congestion, and poor reception. SMS alerts lacked the communication coverage necessary to reach a significant percentage of the campus population. VCU required a mass notification system capable of sending a message during emergencies to its entire campus quickly, reliably and effectively.
Sam Kennedy, assistant director of technology user services who oversees emergency notification at VCU, discusses the university’s unique challenge and solution.
Filling in the Communication Gaps
I think we’re like a lot of campuses, especially urban campuses. We have threats that could happen at any time, every day, and not just from nefarious people. A lot of times it could be something from out of nowhere, almost like an act of God. That’s why we’re always keeping watch, because we truly never know where a threat is going to come from. To be honest, we had thought that we were in good shape. A lot of people had said “VCU is way ahead of everybody else.”
Prior to the Alertus system we relied on SMS alerts and digital signage. With SMS and digital signage, you can reach a wide audience, but are you reaching the right audience? While SMS remains an important component of our notification system, a student won‘t get a message when their phone off or when they don’t have reception. There are a lot of reasons not to get an SMS, but with the Alert Beacons you know you’re going to catch someone’s attention.
We really saw Alertus as an opportunity to widen our ability to reach the people that we needed to talk to. Many times, it’s going to be those people that are in class or on campus who might not get an SMS alert or be near our digital signage. So we installed Alert Beacons in every classroom and public meeting space around campus.
Integration with Personal Recipient System
One of the nice things about the system is its ability to integrate with existing notification systems here on campus. We’ve tied the Alert Beacons into our SMS console with e2Campus so there are no additional activation steps involved. It’s pretty much click a box and away you go. One click sets off the Alert
Beacons, the SMS alerts, and the Alertus Digital Signage Override. It is really nice to be able to have all that configurable from one console. That kind of one button system is what we’ve really wanted from day one.
In terms of activation, VCU police send out the alerts, and our communications and public relations office has the ability to issue alerts if necessary. It just makes sense. Now, police dispatchers can send out a message anytime, all at a moment’s notice.
Alertus has really given everyone at VCU a sense of protection, a peace of mind if you will. I really feel like the Alert Beacons, along with the SMS and the sirens, gives us a great bubble of coverage over the entire university. With Alertus, we know that no matter where people are, whether they’re in a classroom, walking outside, or in a basement, they’re going to hear those Alert Beacons—it just works.