Preparing for the Unpredictable

Preparing for the Unpredictable

Lessons learned in 2020 from deploying this security solution

Organizations of every kind, particularly higher education campuses, were forced to navigate and adjust to several changes throughout 2020. In addition to finding creative ways to maintain a productive learning year amid the COVID-19 crisis, implementing improved on-campus safety measures and staying connected in a remote or hybrid environment quickly became a top priority for school leaders.

While this strange, unpredictable year is finally behind us, last year is proof that school communities should strive to be better prepared for any additional challenges and uncertainties in store for 2021.

The road ahead may seem daunting, but the good news is that the evolution of Mass Notification System (MNS) technology can help to enhance safety, minimize learning disruption, and improve schoolwide communication — even in a new COVID-19 landscape.

Lessons Learned: Navigating the Unpredictable
The unusual circumstances of 2020 triggered a slew of questions from employees, staff and students as they attempted to make sense of their new normal. While navigating COVID-19 disruptions, many school leaders learned how critical it was to maintain transparency with a regular flow of communication.

“People were really looking for guidance. Information was changing as we learned more about COVID-19 and how it was impacting our community. Providing timely and reliable information was key to keeping everyone headed in the same direction and making things work as well as they did for us on campus,” explained Grant Azdell, vice president of Student Aff airs and Dean of Students at Randolph- Macon College, as well as the founder of Azdell-Morgan Organizational Management Solution. “We initiated a schedule of weekly updates to help keep our campus informed. Even if it was to say how we were doing, we sent it out regularly. We also provided a daily dashboard with trackable figures to help our community understand where we stood, as well as how the community around us was doing.”

Using a variety of software and hardware with highly intelligible capabilities such as Text-to-Speech functionality, MNS technology is specifically designed to create a rapid, seamless response for unexpected circumstances like the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Preparing for the unpredictable is a difficult task for any organization,” said Patrick Dennin, director of education sales at Alertus Technologies. “Taking a proactive approach towards your mass noti- fication provides a streamlined activation of organizational communication in high-pressure scenarios. Quick granular updates to prescripted messages ensure that your population receives as detailed information as possible when faced with the unpredictable.”

Leveraging MNS Tools in a Dispersed Learning Environment
With many colleges and universities still operating in a dispersed environment at home and on campus, sending mass emails isn’t enough to stay regularly connected. Emails often get overlooked or lost in a crowded inbox, and sometimes emails are simply not checked on a regular basis.

Leveraging additional communication methods is a practical way to increase communication redundancy, ensure all notifications are received, and heighten awareness more efficiently.

Desktop Alerting
School-wide communication. Desktop alerting is a great option for frequent communication — emergency and non-emergency related — in a hybrid schooling environment. For instance, teachers could keep students engaged by sending desktop notifications about upcoming exams, quizzes, and major projects. Desktop communications offering daily affirmations, study and health tips, and even inspirational quotes could also help keep everyone motivated while away from campus.

A desktop alerting solution makes it easy to facilitate timely, school-wide communication no matter where recipients are located. Through a full-screen takeover, the message covers the entire display of the computer screen so that it is visible, easy-to-read and captures the attention of the recipient immediately.

Schools could also opt for a partial-screen computer desktop pop-up, or a less intrusive ticker alert at the top or bottom of the screen, for ongoing campus announcements. With a recipient acknowledgment feature, there is no need to worry about whether a notification went through.

Transition to On-site Learning. Preparing to return to a safe campus environment will require extensive planning and various updated protocols.

“With a group that is 44% asymptomatic, our best screening tools will not detect folks who are carriers coming on campus,” said Clifford Anderson, director of public safety at Anoka Technical College. “Having PPE, good hygiene plans and social distancing are game changers regardless of location.”

To keep everyone informed and up to date about important on-site changes, desktop alerting could be implemented for social distance guidelines and reminders, new sanitary procedures, updated policies and procedures, and much more prior to the transition back to campus. Sending frequent desktop reminders and announcements beforehand, without oversaturating email inboxes, will likely help everyone to feel more comfortable and prepared for the return.

School boards also have the option of implementing a desktop alerting extension to accommodate Chrome browsers and Chromebook computers and tablets. This solution can easily be installed from the Chrome Web Store, or school leaders can push the extension to all school computers using G Suite or Group Policy.

Mobile Alerting
Given the global spike in cellular network usage over the past year, mobile app alerts can provide a more reliable method of sending and receiving alerts within a matter of seconds using just a WiFi connection. Mobile app alerting helps to ensure that important messages reach an entire school community, even if anyone is away from their computers or not checking email.

A high-quality mobile alerting system provides a platform for authorized safety personnel to quickly send alerts to faculty, staff, and students via Android or iOS tablets or smartphones. These alerts could be planned ahead of time with preset emergency templates and edited on the fly to fit the specific communication or emergency. Mobile app recipients, on the other hand, can receive push notifications and quickly send geo-tagged incident reports to safety staff as needed.

Overcoming Communication Challenges
High-quality, innovative MNS tools can help overcome a wide range of school communication challenges.

In addition to offering more reliable methods of communication, the advances in MNS technology make it possible for school communities to provide both visual and audible alerting messages to their school population. That means higher education institutions would have a higher chance of reaching everyone on campus, including those with different auditory or visual ability, regardless of their physical location.

With a comprehensive, flexible and integrated communication solution, these visual and audible alerting messages could be sent from a single point of activation to every available communication channel within the building, such as desktop computers, VoIP phones, speakers and fire alarm panels. A multi-layered alerting process is especially beneficial at a time when limited on-campus capacity makes it harder for people to look to their peers for emergency-related information or acknowledgment.

An effective communication system is key to keeping organizations connected during an unpredictable situation. As higher education institutions move forward with 2021 planning, efficient and rapid communitywide communication should be a top priority for a successful school year.

This article originally appeared in the March / April 2021 issue of Campus Security Today.


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