Cutting through the Noise
How to overcome alert fatigue as schools reopen
- By Todd Miller
- August 01, 2021
It is hard to believe that many parts of the country are still in a
state of emergency, more than a year after the first pandemic
lockdowns began in March 2020. Throughout this period,
students, families and school staff have received frequent health
and safety alerts from local officials. Consequently, “alert
fatigue” is very real, and the weariness is only growing more intense.
As schools reopen for in-classroom learning, safety and
communications stakeholders should re-evaluate their strategies to
ensure important messaging can still cut through the noise and
reach intended audiences. Students, parents and educators,
especially, are inundated with information every day, which makes
overcoming alert fatigue even harder in education.
Below are three suggestions for how campus safety managers can
upgrade their mass notification systems and processes to keep
people informed with communications that can potentially save
Let Students and Staff Choose How They Receive Updates
Schools today have mass notifications systems for calling
attention to various threats, such as approaching inclement weather
or active shooter situations. These systems have taken on COVIDrelated
communications in the last year as well.
One of the best ways to increase the likelihood that students,
families and staff receive emergency messages is to give them the
ability to choose their preferred communication channels.
Implement an opt-in process that includes the most common ways
people receive alerts - text, email, cell phone, desktop notifications
and push notifications. Make sure you have the capacity to deliver
messages through an efficient multi-modal system.
It is not enough to offer only one or two channels for sending
critical alerts. By expanding the array of options, you increase the
likelihood that you can reach all people in the event of an emergency.
Multi-modal messaging is key since no one single mode of
communication will reach all of your users, all of the time.
In addition, letting students and faculty choose their preferred
emergency notification method increases their trust in whatever is
being communicated. As a campus safety manager, building trust
with your community is paramount to their safety and gives you
confidence that your messages are being read.
Personalize Your Messaging When Possible
Personalizing mass notifications to recipients also improves open
rates. Students and faculty are much more likely to open messages
that appear targeted to them rather than distributed en masse. A
helpful strategy on this front is to segment your recipients into
groups so that you can send messages that are always relevant to the
For instance, you can organize people by geographic location or
campus. In the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, you can then
message only the students and staff who are potentially affected
rather than the entire school system.
You can also segment recipients by role or other characteristics
that correspond to different types of communications. For example,
you may want to send alerts to only faculty, or to the onsite medical
response team, at a given school.
By segmenting people into groups and personalizing your
messaging, you reduce the total number of “irrelevant” alerts you
send -- messages that don’t pertain to certain groups -- and increase
your credibility with all recipients in the long run.
There are a number of ways to target outbound messaging. By
defining each recipient’s department, role or location, you can
choose the type of communications that are appropriate to send
them. You can also personalize the message by identifying the
group you are targeting in the message so recipients know why they
are receiving a notification.
Think Strategically About the Best Mode of Communication
It is also important to think strategically about the best mode of
communication for delivering different types of emergency
messages. It is best practice to use different channels for different
“tiers” of emergency.
For instance, many schools use text alerts only for the most
urgent of circumstances, like active shooter situations or bomb
threats. Use email, social media or other non-invasive channels to
share less urgent information, such as mask-wearing guidance or
simple scheduling reminders.
Within each communication mode, your messaging should be
consistent in both design and tone. These elements should align
with the overall branding of your campus safety department to help
you establish an authentic presence with your community members.
The actual copy you write should also be clear, concise and
deliberate. For critical emergencies, your alerts should share only
what students and staff need to know for their safety. Too much
information or too many action steps can overwhelm people,
especially in chaotic emergency situations. For less urgent matters,
your delivery can be longer and include more context, so long as it
remains helpful for recipients.
Delivering targeted and relevant messages helps you maintain
credibility with your intended audiences and minimizes the
potential for people to become desensitized to potentially lifesaving
As we prepare for reopening, take time to re-assess the
effectiveness of your mass alerting system. With the strategies
mentioned above, you can improve the chances that your emergency
messages will reach their intended recipients and keep students,
teachers and faculty safe moving forward.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2021 issue of Campus Security & Life Safety.