The fourth layer, which Kennesaw State deploys to offset the inherent “dead zones” of cell coverage, is our Alert Notification System comprising a computer override notice on all networked PCs and Macs. Even though our students and faculty are told to keep their cell phone “on” in class, but in the vibrate mode only, many areas in some of the buildings do not receive coverage. This alert layer ensures that even in the most cell phone-unfriendly area, the message will find you. A “popup” screen will override what is presently on the computer along with the projection screen, and display an alert message to either shelter-in (lock doors), move to a storm shelter or evacuate.
Using New Technologies
As we move forward down the line of identifying other technological issues in support of our overall objectives, it is prudent to realize that many of the newest products on the market are possibly still in a “beta test” mode. Usually this means the company may have been working in another area of technology and realized that their product can be modified to fit a niche in the emergency response field, for example. Beta tests are dangerous when your company or institute’s reputation is on the line. Better to have a proven technology and proven in what you are looking to do with it, rather than a technology that may do what it promises, but there is no hard track record of proven results at comparatively profiled facilities.
Kennesaw State University had been looking for the “One Button” approach to its notification and alert systems for some time. Many vendors indicated they had the solution, and in order to find out, a Request for Proposal was put out to determine what was actually on the market. Approximately 12 vendors submitted their bids, and all said they could integrate seamlessly with the American Signal siren system; however, most could not. From the very beginning of the effort, many did not want to answer “no” to that question as it would have eliminated them from any further consideration. Therefore, even when you get a “yes” answer to the RFP category, keep asking more questions as many issues on the surface have sub issues that make the difference.
In the case of the American Signal system, the answer was “yes” for integrating, but the problem surfaced when it was determined that an interface module needed to be installed between the American Signal controller and the software drivers to make it work, which ends up as another point of failure that needs to be factored in. The second issue was raised when we determined that many of the vendors were offering a solution that was an in-house hosted system, thereby requiring separate servers, separate databases, and most importantly, backup power and redundant systems to ensure use during an emergency. This was something we had tried to avoid, especially in the previously described power outage where the only technology that worked was the radio system.
As it turned out, there were only two systems that could accommodate the “one button” approach, both were in the $100K-$200K range per year recurring costs. As with any technology, you need to decide on whether saving 20-30 seconds in your alert system sequence is worth the extra costs associated with it. Kennesaw State decided that it was not cost-effective.
There are many opportunities to combine technology, manual operations and other processes that enable a first-class crisis management program. This layered approach to managing the incident provides a set of options that really work. The key is the people involved and throughout this article, those people who support the Crisis Coordinator Certification Program and are the “Immediate Responders”, define excellence.
Robert F. Lang is Assistant vice president for Strategic Security & Safety for Kennesaw State University in Georgia.