The Next Generation

When traditional notification is not enough to manage the situation

Classic emergency mass notification systems (EMNS) focus on fast and reliable messaging to inform people of dangerous situations. By employing an EMNS, organizations hope to mitigate the effects on their communities of everything from natural disasters to our current pandemic through the provision of timely and accurate information.

At the same time, however, simply notifying the community of a dangerous event isn’t always enough. Considering a situation like an active shooter, organizations not only need to notify those who could be affected, but also engage potential victims to help move them to safety, manage the situation to the best of their abilities, and share intelligence with first responders. Furthermore, an organization may aspire to prevent an incident from happening in the first place.

The traditional view of notification in an EMNS is no longer enough: organizations and institutions need to think more broadly about safety. Three ways organizations can support this line of thinking include:

Employ AI and other Tech to Prevent Emergencies

In 2017, the most recent year for which complete data is available, there were 12 gun deaths per 100,000 people in the United States, the highest rate in more than two decades according to Pew Research. Not surprisingly, the U.S. gun death rate is much higher than in most other countries, particularly developed nations, and this has no doubt accelerated in the past two decades along with the rise of mass shootings.

EMNS solutions are especially critical in the event of these active shooter situations. They are used to giving students, employees, administrators and authorities details about the incident in an attempt to keep people safe and put an end to it as quickly as possible. But what if alerts could be sent as soon as a gun is visible in order to inform the community before a shot is even fired?

The good news is that scenario is now a possibility. Modern AIpowered video recognition software has an ability to identify firearms quickly and accurately and then relay images to administrators so they can verify that there is indeed a threat. Once validated, they can begin to inform all of the relevant stakeholders immediately to initiate safety protocols, with the goal of stopping the perpetrator before a shot is fired. This ability is invaluable and can play an integral role in significantly reducing — if not completely eliminating — harm caused by active shooters.

Use Interactive Communications During Times of Crisis

People today are used to using a variety of communication methods and technologies, and that expectation should extend to emergency situations. First and foremost, any communication about a potentially dangerous event needs to be broadly distributed so that it reaches as much of the community as possible. Speed and reliability mean nothing if the message is not received by the community.

To accommodate this, communications should be sent through multiple channels — text messages, emails, Twitter messages, and so on — so people can utilize the channel they feel most comfortable with. An app-only approach often falls foul of the challenge of ensuring that a high percentage of the community knows about the app and keeps it installed.

Within a crisis, the key is interactivity in communications. A modern EMNS allows for a 2-way dialog between the community and the safety teams, to both help inform the community as well as mine a rich vein of available information. Yet interactivity in a crisis is not like one-on-one messaging — an EMNS that receives information and divides messages and people into groups allows organizations to communicate in a completely contextual and scalable manner.

Cut Through the Information “Fog of War”

When it comes to fast-moving emergency situations, particularly an active shooter on the premises, there is inevitably a glut of information available for people to parse through. This could be any combination of text messages, phone calls, emails, tweets or other social posts all meant to inform others about the current situation.

The problem that arises with such a tsunami of information is it can lead to a growing amount of confusion that quickly devolves the situation into pure chaos. It’s absolutely vital that people have a trusted information source, a single point of truth, they can rely on to receive timely updates and instructions during an undoubtedly fluid and dangerous situation.

The plain fact is, today’s technology can have a dramatic impact during critical events. While the bulk of EMNS solutions have made positive strides toward optimizing their ability to notify their communities, the reality is that notifying them sometimes is not enough. It’s time for organizations and institutions to fully embrace technology to not only notify communities, engage potential victims, and manage dangerous events, but also prevent critical incidents from taking place altogether.

This article originally appeared in the November December 2020 issue of Campus Security Today.


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