Penn adds additional safety and security with emergency notification

Emergencies require immediate, successful notification--every single time.
Emergencies require immediate, successful notification--every single time.

Providing peace of mind to faculty, staff, students and their parents is a key initiative for any academic institution. Rapid, mass notification during a crisis on campus is critical to ensuring the safety of a university population. This was highlighted with frightening clarity in April 2007 with the tragic shooting deaths of 32 people at Virginia Tech. That seminal event hastened the adoption of emergency notification solutions in schools nationwide.

Prior to Virginia Tech, the University of Pennsylvania (Penn) was already evaluating state-of-the-art mass notification technology alternatives, confirming a pre-existing need to implement a solution.

The problem: How to notify a Penn community of thousands at once

In the early 2000s, the best ways to reach many people across campus with specific messages were manual phone trees and basic blast eMails. These methods were laborious and slow, and relied on people either being near their phone or online and checking eMail often. As smart phones with SMS, voicemail, and eMail capabilities became popular, emergency notification technology advanced to take advantage of these new ways to communicate. When Penn sought a way to quickly reach all 52,000 members of its campus community as well as parents in other parts of the country, it looked for a solution that would take advantage of the effective communication technology available.

The Solution: inEnterprise Intelligent Notification platform

In July 2007, Penn concluded its extensive selection process, choosing the MIR3 inEnterprise Intelligent Notification and response platform. MIR3 met the criteria for technological capability, system speed, data security, ease of importing contact data, customer support, and company financial strength. The MIR3 technical team worked closely with DPS and ISC to ready the system in time for the 2008 fall semester.  The “UPennAlert Emergency Notification System” was successfully launched in 2007.  Since that time the MIR3 system has undergone continuous testing, including two annual campus-wide drills, and in several real-life scenarios.

The system’s speed and effectiveness have consistently exceeded the university’s expectations by effectively reaching the entire university community in minutes. This has given Penn much higher confidence that MIR3 will prove to be a reliable notification solution in a crisis.

“It’s reassuring to know we have a system that in the event of a true emergency, when we push that button, we’re going to notify 52,000 people within minutes,” said Maureen Rush, vice president for public safety at Penn.

Penn has also benefited from the inEnterprise Call Bridge feature. With one notification, inEnterprise can gather all members of the Penn Crisis Management Team into an instant conference call wherever they are, day or night, greatly expediting team decision-making and response to incidents.

Campus-wide drill at Penn sets notification speed record

In October 2009, Penn ran its second annual campus-wide test of the UPennAlert system. While the results of the 2008 test were well within performance targets, the results of the 2009 drill surpassed expectations. In only 7.5 minutes, 74,000 SMS and eMail messages were sent to more than 52,000 people. The system has delivered similar results in several real life scenarios.

InEnterprise helps Penn enhance campus notifications with:

•    Customization – The MIR3 inWebServices API (Application Programming Interface) enabled Penn ISC to map the features of inEnterprise to the UPennAlert custom interface, putting a “Penn” brand on the system.

•    Data security with SAS 70 compliance – MIR3 hosts all data in geographically dispersed, multiple-redundant data centers that have been certified SAS 70 compliant, meeting the highest standards for safeguarding data security and privacy, one of the primary concerns for faculty, staff, students, and parents.

•    Ease of use – Launching a notification can be done in seconds with three easy steps. On-call initiators can log in from anywhere with an internet-connected computer and choose from pre-built message templates and recipient groups to send critical communications immediately.

•    Target recipient groups – inEnterprise can send notifications to specific groups of people, organized by geographic zone or recipient type (faculty, staff, student, etc.) This enables Penn to geographically target members that may be near the incident.

•    Instant reporting of notification results – As soon as a notification is launched, inEnterprise provides real-time reporting of the notification in progress, including number of notifications sent, who’s received them and on what devices, and responses. Reports are archived for assessing and improving the notification process.

•    Recipients manage their own contact data – The MIR3 inConnect self-registration application is integrated into ISC’s data structure and front-end user interface to allow faculty, staff, and students to maintain their contact information securely.  This data is immediately updated in the UPennAlert recipient database, keeping the contact database current.

•    Instant conference calls to rapidly manage crises – The inEnterprise Call Bridge lets members of the Crisis Management Team instantly join a conference call by just pressing “1” on their phone keypads. There’s no separate phone number to call or login key to remember. All team members can be gathered immediately 24/7, wherever they may be, to rapidly respond to emerging crises.

The bottom line

The MIR3 notification and response system adds an additional layer of security to Penn’s public safety program providing its entire community with rapid, reliable, effective mass notification.

“One of the things that we work very hard on is making sure we communicate the value of the system. Parents have our promise that we’re going to do everything possible to keep their sons and daughters safe through our notification system,” Rush said.

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Laura Ascione

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