Notification methods involve two kinds of warning: “push” and “fetch” models. The “fetch” method includes eMail, which students have to check before they can get the emergency message. “Push” strategies include texting students on their mobile devices, such as iPhones and BlackBerrys, so they’re sure to receive a message within minutes of its dispatch.

“We really felt that we needed to increase push methods,” Turner said. “It buzzes in your pocket, and you’re going to answer it.”

Even with the improvements to mass notification systems in recent years, Turner said, CDW-G’s notification web site could be critical for school leaders upgrading their emergency warning systems.

“There wasn’t any great succinct set of information,” he said. “People just pieced things together.”

Campus IT officials said the future of notification systems could include targeted warnings. With more students using mobile devices with global positioning systems installed, IT departments could send alert messages to students in a certain building or area of campus. If, for example, there was a biological emergency in a campus lab, one set of alerts could tell students in the laboratory to evacuate to a certain part of campus for decontamination. Another alert could be sent to other students warning them to stay away from the lab, Turner said.

“That’s the natural progression as we go forward–specifying messages,” he said.

The toolkit web site lists a series of notification types, as well as appropriate measures for each category. For non-urgent notifications, blast eMails and media advisories are appropriate, according to the site. Moderate notification calls for text messages and home web page postings, among other measures. Urgent situations call for all forms of notification, supplemented by in-person notification delivered by security personnel.

Turner said face-to-face warnings are often called “Sneakernet,” and the method paid dividends at Union University in Tennessee in February 2008, when a tornado ripped through campus.

The tornado destroyed 40 percent of Union’s dorms and damaged another 40 percent, but no one was killed thanks to a comprehensive warning system, said CDW-G’s Thomas, who visited the campus shortly after the storm.

Union University students said campus staff went classroom to classroom to warn students of the oncoming tornado.

“They didn’t rely on a single solitary mechanism to do what they needed to do,” Thomas said.

Links:

CDW-G Mass Notification Toolkit

Brandeis University

Union University