Mobile-enabled Communications help Mitigate Crisis
Having the right tools helps staff and faculty protect students
- By Nick Mirisis
- Jan 01, 2015
Emergencies that compromise
safety on college campuses
and universities are an unfortunate
reality today. In fact, 90
percent of schools communicated
a safety incident last
year. Given the rise of incidents,
campus safety is rightfully
attention. Even the 2015 U.S.
News & World Report’s Best
Colleges Rankings for the
first time ever has included
crime statistics for each
ranked school. Campus security
professionals are focused
on not just protecting students,
staff and faculty, but
about informing them with
adequate and timely resources
to help protect themselves.
Having the right tools in place
to be able to efficiently and
quickly get the right information
to faculty, staff and students
during an emergency is
a top concern among many
campus safety organizations.
While nearly all higher education institutions
have emergency plans in place, a recent
third-party research study of school administrators,
commissioned by SchoolDude,
reported that the majority of schools (79 percent)
use paper-based binders and handbooks
as their primary method of sharing essential
crisis response information with faculty, staff
and students. Unfortunately, these resources
are not the most ideal when an emergency
strikes and reaction times matter most. Luckily,
the same survey revealed that the majority
of respondents are looking toward mobile
technologies as a way to communicate emergency
response plans and procedures during
unexpected crisis scenarios.
Systematic emergency preparedness is a
vital part of every higher education institution’s
planning process and mobile access to
this information is critical. College campuses
need comprehensive crisis plans that are proactive,
immediate, actionable and, most
importantly, easily communicated to help
ensure the campus community has the right
information and can take the appropriate
action in the face of an emergency.
Paper-Based Crisis Response
Plans Still Dominate
While up to 70 percent of U.S. consumers
now have a smartphone and college students
are some of the largest consumers of mobile
technology, paper processes still dominate
higher education crisis response preparation.
These paper-based plans are a risk factor for
campus security organizations. While once
the status quo, paper-based emergency
response plans can’t foster communication in
real-time and can be hard to access in the
event of an emergency.
How easy is it to get to a handbook in a
desk or thrown on a shelf among the many
other orientation items when a crisis occurs?
Further, the information is out of date the
moment it is printed and it is expensive to
reprint. Even with high-visibility evacuation
maps, the chances that constituents at risk
will have access to plan information at the
exact moment an emergency hits are slim.
While campus officials might think that
their current crisis plans are adequate, it’s
important to be aware of the restrictions and
problems that may arise from paper-based
plans. Analog communication systems have
significant limitations in today’s mobile-driven
world. Handbooks and binders can be useful
for training purposes, however, when time is
the most precious resource available in an
emergency, easy access to thorough and up-todate
emergency guidelines and procedures are
critical to staff, faculty and student response.
Mobile technology offers the ability for students
or faculty to anonymously report concerns
to campus safety departments or get
general information about warning signs for a
student, roommate, or teammate related to
anxiety, depression and other mental health
and behavioral issues. As students enter college
and live on their own for the first time, it
is often friends, roommates and classmates
who first notice these issues. Mobile connectivity
can provide valuable information to
help friends and faculty recognize red flags
and also look out for each other.
Notifications Not a Stand Alone Solution
Over the past few years, many schools have added email or mobile
alerts. According to SchoolDude research, 58 percent of school officials
currently use an email notification system to communicate with
staff during emergency situations, and 33 percent use email to convey
emergency situations and protocols. While email notifications are
helpful for quickly sending a mass update, they are limited. Email and
other alert-only response processes only make people aware of an
emergency. They don’t offer proactive information or instructions to
help manage situations, for example, providing building-specific information
with details on where to evacuate in the event of a fire, natural
disaster or other dangerous situation.
Also, alerts—mobile-enabled or email—require that an individual
be at the base of operations or headquarters disseminating that information
continuously. Today, with such fluid updates and changes, this
is not a timely way to communicate during emergency situations.
Restricting these response tools to a handful of people, who have
access to the necessary information, can create bottlenecks and severe
Mobile Response Plans Always Close at Hand
The use of mobile technologies to communicate emergency preparedness
procedures, and automate paper-based processes, is rising within
schools. In fact, it is a top three priority among administrators for
school planning this year, according to the SchoolDude study.
Given students’ wide usage of mobile devices, a unified mobile strategy
that incorporates alerts to response plans, maps and next steps is a
natural step and critical task for campus emergency needs, as they
navigate scenarios from building closures to violence to injury.
While budget, implementation time and technical expertise have
been common adoption roadblocks, mobile development has advanced
and made mobile-enabled plans very cost-effective and straightforward.
The majority of institutions already have crisis response procedures
in place, and many of them are already equipped with the necessary
mobile tools to share critical information with staff and faculty. It
is just a matter of marrying these two systems with a simple set up and
easy plan upload to dramatically improve emergency response procedures.
No special technical expertise is required and plans are password-
protected to be shared based on roles and responsibilities within
There is a significant amount of time that is regularly being dedicated
to emergency response planning including working closely with
first responders and local emergency officials. Mobile technologies can
help all parties collaborate and provides access to the most current
resources and plans instantly.
Based on the nature of threats that colleges and universities can
potentially face and the existing channels of communication between
the staff, faculty and students, it is clear that administrators must reassess
the efficiency of their current crisis response plans to make sure
that safety needs are met.
Accessing emergency plans and procedures via mobile devices can
help ensure all audiences have the most current emergency protocols
within reach during an emergency. As campus security professionals
continue to focus on ways to keep their emergency
plans current and well communicated in order to
maintain safe learning and work environments,
mobile technologies will play a crucial role.
This article originally appeared in the January 2015 issue of Security Today.