THE MAGAZINE

Are Evacuation Practices Flawed?

By Megan Gates

An App Approach to Emergency Communications

Last October, as a participant in a Virginia statewide earthquake drill, George Mason University (GMU) rolled out the notification feature of its new mobile application geared towards emergency preparedness, says David Farris, GMU’s director of emergency management and fire safety.

The university is using Irving Burton Associates’ (IBA) In Case of Crisis mobile app that allows administrators to customize emergency information they would like to be available to students, faculty, staff, and administration should an emergency occur on campus. As more students were carrying smartphones on campus, "it became the next obvious step,” Farris says.

Prior to the app, GMU was using traditional methods—posters, television messages, and Web sites—to get information out to the campus community about what to do in case of fire, severe weather, active shooters, earthquakes, and more. The university also printed flipbooks for faculty use, but they weren’t always effective because information would go stale, they would be lost, or people didn’t use them as a reference.

Even though information was also made available to students on the Internet, GMU discovered that many weren’t able to find what they were looking for because of a generational difference, Farris says. “We’ve discovered that students don’t use Web sites the way that my generation uses Web sites, which is we go in, and we search for a Web page, and then we browse through the Web page,” he explains. “We’ve found that students…Google what they’re looking for, and they’ll look at the first couple of things that pop up, and that’s it. And we realized that when we did that, we weren’t finding information we wanted students to have, nor was our information on our Web site necessarily...concise enough for them to reference in an emergency.”

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