Building Your Campus Project

Building Your Campus Project

Planning and collaboration builds solid foundation for future growth

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.

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