Siemens argues that assumption is a mistake. “Given that many community college students may be working on a two-year associate degree, taking a year of general education courses before transferring to a four-year school or attending continuing education classes for only a semester to enhance their skills, the reliance on web-based communications is cause for concern,” the report says. Sixty-one percent of community colleges reported offering at least one course online, according to a Pearson Foundation survey. Siemens worries that the likelihood visitors and students will get the emergency messages through online sources is less than through public address systems and digital signage.
But there seems to be a disconnect. If students are taking more online courses, it seems it would be better to reach the students where they are. Not exactly, explained Siemens spokesman, Steven Kuehn.
“While many [students and staff] do have a web-based relationship with the college, solely relying on that is not going to help you manage the risk to all those on campus at a given time,” Kuehn said. “You’re trying to reach all the people in proximity of the critical event. You can’t know with any real certainty who is on campus at any given moment. You need layered communication to reach all the people who are in physical proximity to the danger.”
The report says colleges in the South showed the highest level of sophistication with the largest number of schools using more than eight different ways to notify students and faculty during an event.
For example, East Carolina University (ECU) in Greenville, North Carolina, and just across town from PCC, uses every mode of communication listed in the survey, with the most recent addition, on-campus loudspeakers, added in the last two years. It also uses several extended notification services. ECU’s enrollment hovers around 30,000 students.
“Ten years ago we didn’t have 75-90 percent of these tools available to us,” John Durham, executive director of university communications told Security Management. “As you add technology capabilities, the avenues for communicating broaden.”
The university not only provides alert signage in main campus buildings and residence halls, but pop-up alerts on university computers and text message notifications that can be subscribed to by anyone on or off-campus. It also provides an app online that can be downloaded to ad pop-up alerts to a personal computer.
“Obviously we don’t use our whole arsenal everyday though,” Durham said. The ECU Police Department and the school’s emergency management do a good job evaluating the risk that any particular incident poses and the most appropriate method of communication, he said.
For getting the message out , Siemens says think "redundancy."
"If online based notifications are your main gun, you're going miss people who are there who have a causal relationship or no relationship with the community college," said Kuehn. "To make sure that you reach people like that and others, redundancy is key. Part of it is to inform people, and part of it is to keep people out of the danger zone."
photo courtesy of Siemens