Just 40 percent of institutions report that they encourage students to sign up for alerts during orientation. When asked how institutions can increase student participation, student respondents overwhelmingly—and unexpectedly—said participation should be mandatory. Yes, that’s right—students think participation should be mandatory.

Compounding the awareness challenge is that some institutions still do not have emergency alert programs in place. Community colleges are at particular risk.

Almost half of all U.S. undergraduates attend community colleges; however, these schools lag in emergency alert awareness and participation. Only 62 percent of community colleges have a modern emergency alert system, which includes eMail and text messages, according to the survey. Four-year institutions fare better, with 85 percent of public institutions and 87 percent of private institutions reporting that they have a modern emergency alert system.

What does an emergency alert system look like?

Today, technology plays a pivotal role in emergency alert systems. An effective system uses existing data and voice networks to deliver pre-recorded or live messages to alert the community of emergencies and give residents instructions, such as evacuating a building or going to pre-assigned shelters.

Comprehensive emergency alert systems enable administrators and campus safety personnel to immediately contact every member of the community through phone calls, text messages, instant messages, eMail, and other alerts on the following devices:

  • Internet Protocol-based (IP) phones
  • Analog and digital phones
  • Desktop and notebook computers
  • Mobile and smart phones
  • Fax machines and pagers

In addition, these systems can broadcast messages throughout the campus, indoors and outdoors, through:

  • Loudspeakers and paging systems
  • Digital signage, such as LCD or plasma screens in buildings and throughout campus
  • Sirens or alarms

Institutions also might want to consider video surveillance cameras to enhance a mass-notification system. Video cameras can work as a standalone system separate from a mass-notification system, but linking the two systems has its benefits. For example, some camera systems offer add-on technology that analyzes sounds and video, and notifies campus police if it detects gunshots or other dangerous activity.

A call to action

Based on the survey results and its work with higher-education institutions, CDW-G recommends that administrators consider the following to improve participation in emergency alert programs: