Campus Emergency Communications: Lock Down
A recent incident (fortunately a false alarm) shows how multimodal alert systems can keep a campus informed.
Recently, American University (AU) issued a series of emails to students, parents, staff, and subscribers of their emergency communications service. The first email was very discomforting, stating:
"AU Public Safety and Washington Metropolitan Police are responding to reports of a gunman on campus. Campus is on lockdown. Students are safe. More information will follow."
The last email stated: "Campus is all clear. The lockdown is lifted. Campus may resume normal operations. Suspect is in custody. Students, faculty, and staff are safe and unharmed."
The incident was prompted by a student report of a man wearing a gun holster on a campus shuttle bus. The university also distributed a photograph of a man and woman that police later identified as an off-duty police officer--in other words, it was a false alarm. The lockdown was reported at about 7:55 pm and cleared around 9:25 pm.
The university provides information about its operational policies during emergency scenarios as well as details about its closing/cancellation procedures. I spoke with Camille Lepre at AU, and she told me that they use "AU Alert" messaging system to inform campus of various scenarios--the system is an offering of Rave Mobile Safety. Rave Alert is an emergency notification system for enterprises, schools and institutions. It uses multi-modal broadcast messaging via email, SMS, voice, RSS, social networks including on-site interfaces to paging, digital signage and push notification systems to user desktops. Campus users who subscribe to the AU network receive desktop notifications.
What We Can Learn
In reviewing AU's Emergency Notification System, I discovered that it isn't tightly defined--which makes sense because ENS tends to be situational. Furthermore, not all campus, institutional or enterprise sites are the same or operate in the same manner.
Instead, there's a top-down approach from leadership that uses internal policies and procedures to establish a framework Then, there is inter-departmental cooperation, and responsibilities are delegated to AU members to form an Emergency Response Team. Next are the tools that the university uses that integrate with the cloud, LAN, local interfaces and first responders. Finally, social media was also effectively leveraged, as it was used to release the photograph.