Communication is the most important aspect of security, says Paul Timm, PSP, president of RETA Security. Virginia Tech did have mass notification capabilities when the 2007 tragedy occurred, and it did use such mechanisms as e-mail to send out information about the shootings, but technology has made instant mass communications far easier since then.
For example, many notification systems in effect before the shooting did not use text messages. That was because it was complicated. “[Y]ou had to buy Sprint’s [service] or Verizon, or what have you, and you then had to carry their particular device,” explains Bob Lang, CPP, assistant vice president of safety and security at Kennesaw State University in Georgia.
A 2008 report called The Ripple Effect of Virginia Tech from the Midwestern Higher Education Compact found that nearly three-quarters of respondents whose schools did not previously possess the ability to send notification via text had since implemented a system capable of doing that or planned on implementing such a system.
Helping to facilitate this change is the fact that today’s notification systems can generally be used with all carriers, and most every student has a smartphone. Thus, it’s not just that mass notification systems are more widespread, says Timm, it’s that they are easier to implement and, therefore, end up being more useful.
Schools are also getting more students to sign up for notifications. That’s because “schools are speaking to other schools, and we’re learning from each other,” says Timm. “So we’re not just going to leave it up to the student to walk in and sign up. We’re saying ‘here, if you’re going to register for classes, the screen that you get before you’re allowed to register is the sign-up for mass notification.”