Building Your Campus Project
Planning and collaboration builds solid foundation for future growth
- By Scott Himes
- August 01, 2021
The past school year required campus leaders to think on their
feet as they addressed the evolving challenges presented by
COVID-19. While the threat of the pandemic has not completely
passed, this fall will undoubtedly bring new obstacles
for campuses across the country to tackle so they can continue
to provide a safe learning environment for all. When complications
arise, whether expected or unforeseen, one of the biggest issues
is communication. People need to understand what is happening and
what is expected of them. The longer it takes to get a message out, the
more potential there is for bad situations to worsen.
At Biola University, the team leveraged InformaCast, a mass notification system, to help streamline communications and improve efficiencies when it came to alerting and responding to emergency situations
on our campus. Success didn’t happen all at once, and some
parts are still ongoing. Securing a campus isn’t as simple as flipping a
switch or plugging in the right tool. It takes planning, collaboration
and many considerations before executing different phases to build a
solid foundation that allows for future growth.
As the new school year approaches, many campuses are likely considering
what more they can do to further bolster their campus safety
plans. Whether budgets are tight, timeframes are short or other
resources are limited, here is a list of projects to consider for the start
of the year and beyond to enhance safety and security on campus for
students and staff.
Collaborate with Other Departments
This may not be the most obvious place to start, but when done right
it can pay big dividends in the long run. Campus safety is no single
person or department’s responsibility. Creating and executing an
effective plan takes input from multiple groups working towards the
same goals. Campus safety teams may be running day-to-day operations,
but they need assistance from IT and facilities to ensure the
infrastructure is in place to implement solutions. Building relationships
between these departments will help keep everyone working in
the same direction.
Working with multiple departments also helps ensure that campuses
create the most comprehensive plan possible. Different perspectives
can help highlight overlooked obstacles or reveal unexpected
solutions. It can also alleviate some of the previously mentioned
challenges. Pooling budgets and sharing team members can minimize
headaches and speed up the time it takes to build a better plan.
If nothing else, remember that it doesn’t cost anything to start a conversation
with someone, but a lack of communication can be costly
down the road.
Prepare for the Unexpected
Emergency events don’t abide by a schedule. They happen when and where they please, with little warning. That’s why strong campus safety
plans always account for the unexpected. At Biola University,
which is located in southern California that means anticipating
earthquakes. We use InformaCast integrated with Early Warning
Labs’ earthquake early warning system to help give us advance warning
about when an earthquake may strike. This helps give everyone a
few seconds of advance warning that can mean the difference between
being safe and being in harm’s way.
For other campuses this threat may be wildfires, tornadoes or hurricanes.
As isolated as these kinds of events may be, their impact can
be devastating if people are unprepared. Know what kind of events
could put students and faculty as risk and understand how to best
communicate safety information. Creating message templates and
alerting procedures ahead of time will put campus leaders ahead of
the game should an actual disaster occur.
Build on what is Already in Place
One of the biggest obstacles campuses face when they look to improve
their safety procedures is finding the time and money to install and
manage a new system. The last thing anyone wants is to add on a separate
siloed tool that only performs a single function. However, mass
notification systems like InformaCast can integrate directly with the
technological infrastructure already in place on your campus.
Campuses can add value to existing phone systems, panic buttons,
speakers, desktop computers, and other devices reducing the need to
invest in new hardware or software. This can also help streamline certain
procedures by creating a single point of contact for activating and
managing emergency alerts. The more a campus can consolidate the
less time they may need to spend actively managing what’s in place.
Take stock of what is already in place on campus and see how tools
like mass notification systems can help build on an existing systems
foundation to provide a more powerful solution for safety and alerting.
Reach More than Mobile Devices
Many campuses rely on mass SMS text messaging and email to help
share information during a crisis. This may seem like an airtight plan
since people carry their cell phones with them most of the time, but
when our campus ran a lockdown drill, we discovered a serious issue.
Many people were not aware that the drill was taking place because
they either were not in front of their email when the message was
sent, or they did not have access to their cell phone to receive the text
message. This happens more often than people think as classroom
instruction and other activities may prevent people from immediately
receiving the message.
That’s why we implemented audio alerts to help reach more people.
Tying our mass notification system to outdoor speakers helped us
send attention-grabbing audio alerts that reached the entire campus.
We also leveraged desk phones in a number of buildings to display
text messages and play audio from the speakers. Campuses should
consider alternative ways to reach people and what they can do
ensure messages are received by as many people as possible. If the
event of a critical situation like an active shooter, everyone needs to
be aware so they can stay safe. The more channels and delivery methods
a campus uses, the more likely it is that no one misses a message.
Improve Response Times
Awareness goes beyond just sending out a message though. It involves
making sure the right people understand what’s happening so the
situation can be resolved. The longer this takes the more students and
faculty can be at risk.
A few years ago, aging panic buttons were updated to help improve
response times. Previously, panic buttons were unreliable, and it
could take up to three minutes between someone pressing the button
and someone responding. That was too long for someone to wait if
they were in a crisis situation.
Using our mass notification system, we configured panic buttons
on desk phones around campus and installed new IP panic buttons at
key locations. The result was a drastic time reduction. Now campus
safety members are seeing alerts almost instantaneously when panic
buttons are triggered, resulting in better event outcomes. Analyze
how long it takes to deploy a response on campus and look for areas
to reduce those times so people receive assistance as fast as possible.
Test Early, Test Often
Often, campuses find tools to address campus safety concerns, set
them up and leave them to collect dust until they need to use them.
The problem with that approach is that when that time arrives, they
find that tool does not work as intended.
Messages only get sent to half the campus, certain sirens don’t go
off, and strobes that were supposed to light up don’t activate. This can
result in serious issues for students and faculty, and it highlights why
testing is so important. Testing campus safety tools ahead of time
helps identifying potential issues and gaps that can be rectified before
the tools need to be used for a true emergency.
Regular testing helps ensure effectiveness so that when the time
comes more time be spent managing the incident and no one needs
to worry if everything worked as it was supposed to.
Completing these projects will help campuses start the new school
year on the right foot. Each takes time, education and training to successfully
complete. It is important to consider taking a phased
approach when grappling with these tasks so as not to overwhelm
personnel or deplete budgets. Campus safety needs are always evolving
so the better foundation a campus can build to grow on, the easier
it will be to do so.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.