Effective And Integrated Mass Notification At The Push Of A Button
The advantages of having a mass notification system with a single point of activation
- By Greg Smith
- November 01, 2017
COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES HAVE A TREMENDOUS
RESPONSIBILITY TO SAFEGUARD STUDENTS, FACULTY
AND STAFF MEMBERS WHO LIVE, STUDY AND WORK ON
THEIR CAMPUSES. IT IS A DAUNTING TASK FOR SAFETY
PERSONNEL WHEN THE THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO
ARE ON CAMPUS EVERY DAY, AT ALL TIMES OF DAY AND
NIGHT, ARE TAKEN INTO CONSIDERATION. ALSO, MANY
CAMPUSES HAVE SEVERAL UNSECURED ENTRY POINTS
THAT CAN BE ACCESSED BY ANYONE AT ANY TIME.
Fortunately, schools are up to the challenge and typically have several
security measures in place. These measures can include a badgeonly
entry for certain buildings, employing a full-time police force,
and using a mass emergency notification system in the event of a crisis
such as an active shooter or severe weather event.
A mass notification system can be comprised of various forms of
communication including email, text messages and phone calls, popup
messages on computer screens and digital signage, and large outdoor
speakers. However, with varying forms of notification methods
comes the challenge of activating all of them quickly and effectively.
Components of a system might not be integrated with each other,
which could require safety personnel to perform multiple activations.
Many universities, like Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., face
“During a crisis, you don’t have time to go down a checklist of all the
systems you need to activate,” said Chris Jones, associate vice president
for Technology and Operations for Gordon College. “The list to activate
all our systems was daunting, even without the pressure of an
MASS NOTIFICATION AND THE
INTERNET OF THINGS: INTEGRATION
Whether a school like Gordon College already has an emergency notification
system in place and is looking to expand or is considering
longer-term future additions, considering the system’s ability to integrate
is essential. If a school already has one or more products or systems
in place, it’s crucial that the new system works well with those
components, not only for cost effectiveness but to ensure a cohesive
With so much of today’s technology relying more and more on the
Internet of Things, it does not make sense for schools—or any organization—
to invest in a system that can’t connect and integrate with
various systems and technologies. That is why schools need to implement
a mass notification system that can easily—and seamlessly—integrate
with third-party systems.
One of the strengths of the Alertus System is its ability to easily
integrate with other systems to automatically send incident-specific
notifications across desktop and laptop computers, VoIP phones, digital
signage, and more.
“In looking at Alertus, it was the way to unify everything together,”
added Jones. “We now have it set that with basically “one click,” it can
activate all the systems. Being able to setup pre-scripted alerts to fire
off with one button press or one click during a crisis can really help
save lives during an emergency.”
Alertus has a robust set of APIs supporting logical integration with
third-party systems. The use of APIs facilitates third-party system activation
of the Alertus System, and, similarly, Alertus enjoys strong partner
relationships with other notification service providers, which
enables the Alertus System to activate these partner systems.
The Alertus System also has built-in capabilities to generate or consume
various data feeds, including Syndication and CAP feeds. These
capabilities enable smart, cross-platform integration, which is typically
informed by customer-defined business rules. Similarly, the Alertus
System can cause integrated systems to activate in prescribed manners,
PANIC BUTTONS: ONE TOUCH ACTIVATION
A key benefit to having an integrated notification system is the ability
to have a single point of activation. When an emergency situation
arises, security personnel can lose valuable time—which can cost
lives—because they have to deploy multiple forms of notifications.
A popular solution for one-step activation
in the event of a major crisis is the use of panic
buttons (also called hold-up buttons, duress
buttons, or panic alarm buttons). Since campuses
can face different types of threats, they
have to consider the best panic button option
to fit their needs. In extreme emergencies such
as an active shooter situation, the classic red
button is still the go-to option because of the
immediate need to call for help while simultaneously
notifying thousands of people at once
of the threat.
But schools and organizations often face
scenarios where discretion is paramount to
keep a potentially dangerous situation under
control. In these situations, a covert call for
help from pushing a small, discreet panic
button, or a few inconspicuous clicks of a
mouse could potentially minimize any escalation
from an agitated or suspicious individual
who isn’t posing an immediate threat.
Panic button capabilities can also be included
in smartphone apps to allow personnel to
trigger localized alert notifications regardless
of their location.
Panic buttons can be hardwired directly
into a system, connected via USB port, and
some models have wireless capabilities.
Pressing a panic button will activate notification
alerts through other, integrated
products—including the Alert Beacon®,
Alertus Desktop™ Notification, LED marquees,
text-to-speech interface for public
address and giant outdoor speaker systems,
fire alarm interface, VoIP phone alerting,
and digital signage and cable television override.
Alerts can be customizable depending
on a school’s needs and can be configured
using custom event triggers.
CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY
In 2014, California State University San Marcos
handled a potential active shooter event
when they received a call that there was a person
on campus with a weapon. As campus
police started searching for the person, school
officials made the decision to put the campus
One push of the discreet panic button
located in the campus dispatch center and all
of the school’s emergency alert devices activated.
The speakers fired off and started relaying
the alert message, the doors locked down,
the desktop notification and phones went off,
the digital signage displayed the alert, and the
system began sending custom messages out
via phone call, text, and email.
“When we installed our new emergency
notification system we wanted a system that
could be easily deployed in case of emergency,”
said Robert Williams, Emergency Manager
at California State University San Marcos.
“One of the functions of that was to
install an emergency alert button for active
Throughout the event, multiple alerts were
deployed to keep everyone informed of the situation.
The initial alert put the campus on lockdown
and instructed everyone to shelter in
place. Shortly after, the second alert went out to
inform everyone that law enforcement was on
campus and also provided a description of the
subject. A few minutes later another alert went
out to keep the lock down in place, and that law
enforcement was entering the last known area
where the subject was seen. Within the next 20
minutes, the all-clear notification went out.
[The potential gunman was an employee of the
university and was carrying a long umbrella
that someone mistook for a rifle.]
“It was extremely beneficial to have so
many options for getting information out to
our campus community,” added Williams.
“Depending on where people were during
the lockdown, they were able to receive the
alerts through digital signage and desktop
notifications. Some people could hear the
phone notifications, and most were getting
the information via their cell phones (call,
text and email)."
Using a panic button to activate an integrated
system greatly improved the school’s
response efficiency. With the previous system
they had to go into the alerting software,
type up the message and send it, then, separately
go into their text distribution program,
type up the message and send it. With
the different steps, it took approximately
three-to-four minutes of work just to send
the message out versus simply pushing a
panic button. In an active shooter situation
the difference between people getting notified
in a matter of 20 seconds or less versus
four minutes is vital when, according to statistics,
most active shooter incidents are over
in 12 minutes.
With advances in emergency mass notification
technology, campus security personnel have the
tools to better protect their campuses. But while
they must remain vigilant, having an integrated
emergency mass notification system with a single
point of activation will
give them an advantage
should they face a major
This article originally appeared in the November 2017 issue of CSLS.