It is best practice to have numerous ways to reach members of the campus with pertinent information. In the International Association of Campus Law Enforcement Administrators (IACLEA) blueprint for safer campuses, “one of the things that we focused on was to have redundant systems so that if cell phones didn’t work because they were jammed, you had other ways of getting the word out to the campus if there was an imminent danger,” says Christopher G. Blake, IACLEA’s associate director and campus preparedness project director.
Virginia Tech’s current alert system includes text messaging, e-mail, message boards, sirens, and desktop alerts, among other mechanisms. “The bottom line to a lot of this is coming up with a layered approach to notifications,” says Lang.
Virginia Tech added digital message boards in classrooms and laboratories to its system after the 2007 tragedy. “Those are immediate; they literally will send a message within a second of deployment. Text messaging can take up to 20 minutes depending on cell phone service, the number of people, the number of subscribers, says Owczarski.
Owczarski says the university prioritized which classrooms would have the signs first, and the installation process is ongoing as opportunity and funding becomes available. For example, large lecture halls and the most widely used spaces received the signs initially. There are about 700 signs currently. University policy states that the boards must be included in new construction projects and renovations.
The notification process is ever-developing based upon technology improvements. For example, Virginia Tech has also added Twitter and Facebook to its cadre of notification media.
Content and context. Another issue universities have to wrangle with is exactly what the content of the message will be for any given situation.