Making a Difference
Audio notifications are a critical assistant for campus alerting
- By Pat Scheckel
- Aug 07, 2020
Alerting a campus about an emergency poses a number
of challenges that can be difficult to anticipate
and manage during an emergency. The size of a
campus, the delivery methods campus security teams
leverage, and ongoing activities and distractions can all prevent
critical messages from reaching everyone. During an emergency,
campuses need to deliver messages quickly that reach as close to
100 percent of their population as possible, but if campuses aren’t
using the right channels to send alerts, it may mean people miss
or ignore a message.
REACHING THE POPULATION
One way many college and university campuses try and reach
100 percent of their population is by using mass SMS text messaging
services to alert people about an emergency. In theory, this
sounds like an effective way to get information into the hands of
the people that need it.
However, mobile notifications have several limitations, especially
on campuses, that may cause recipients to miss a message.
The two primary audiences for receiving alerts on campus are students
and staff. In certain classrooms, students may be required to
keep mobile devices stored away or on silent so as not to disrupt
instruction. Professors, teaching assistants and other instructors
will be focused on classwork, and therefore will likely not be accessing
their phone in the middle of class. This could leave large
portions of campus unaware that a dangerous situation is taking
place, wasting precious time when they should be taking action to
keep themselves out of harm’s way.
This also doesn’t account for any visitors that may be on campus
who are not a part of mass SMS text messaging service. They
would need to rely on others to let them know that an event is
taking place and what the proper procedures are for seeking safety.
Campuses wouldn’t rely on silent alerts to notify people if there
was a fire, and they shouldn’t rely on a text-only forms of communication
to notify people about other emergency events like active
shooters or severe weather.
AN EFFECTIVE MOBILE ALERT
This is not to say that mobile alerts are completely ineffective
when campuses need to send alerts, but it should be used in conjunction
with intrusive audio messages to ensure everyone is aware
that a situation is taking place.
Audio notifications can interrupt ongoing instruction to alert
students and faculty that they need to take action. Campuses
should look to leverage devices they already have in place in classrooms
and buildings that can be used to share simultaneous audio
messages. This adds more value to existing technology investments
and reduces the need for people to familiarize themselves with another
For example, IP phones can be connected to a mass notification
system to turn the phone into a speaker that broadcasts emergency
alerts in a classroom. Mobile notifications can be ineffective even
if mobile phones have sound or vibration turned on. Students and
staff could waste precious seconds trying to find or unlock phones
to view the text message. Using the IP phone as a speaker for audio
offers a more immediate way for people on campus to receive information.
They don’t even need to waste time picking up the phone
to hear the message.
Similarly, IP speakers placed throughout campuses can have the
advantage of getting people’s attention if they are walking between
classes, are not near a desk phone, or have their mobile device
stowed away. Some campuses may still be using traditional overhead
paging, as IP speakers can be a large investment. For campuses
looking to keep costs down, while still providing a powerful
way to alert people, certain mass notification systems can integrate
with analog speaker systems to deliver audio alerts.
Another non-mobile option to deliver audio is alerts sent to
desktop notifications. Text that pops-up over existing applications
can be an effective way to interrupt student or instructor work and
let them know about an emergency. Some mass notification systems
can also broadcast audio, even overriding a computer that
is set to mute if system administrators wish to do so. The audio
helps emphasize the urgency of the message and offers an additional
method for delivering a notification. It also can help reach
people who may have stepped away from the computer know that
someone is trying to share vital information with them.
Campuses should consider the situations they need to prepare
for and prerecord messages that can be easily triggered in the event
of an emergency. Audio messages should include clear and concise
language about what kind of event is taking place and what people
on campus are expected to do.
An alert for an active intruder may require different messaging
than an alert for a chemical spill. Having messages recorded ahead
of time will save time when an emergency occurs and will alleviate
putting pressure on a staff member or administrator to deliver accurate,
easy to understand information. In certain circumstances it
may be more prudent to utilize live audio to provide more detailed
and up to date information that cannot be recorded ahead of time.
In this case it is important to select someone who can speak plainly
when under pressure so everyone can grasp what is happening.
When an emergency occurs, campuses should do everything
they can to get people to stop and take notice of critical alerts.
Notifications should be as easy to consume as possible. That means
using text, audio and other visual elements to reach everyone with
the instructions they need to stay safe.
This article originally appeared in the July / August 2020 issue of Security Today.