Crisis on Campus

How Kennesaw State united technology, business continuity and risk strategies to build a holistic crisis management infrastructure

As a security executive overseeing a college campus, the range of things that can go wrong is extensive. And when your primary job is protecting a huge amount of people, many of them students, you better be ready for anything — from an active shooter, to an approaching tornado, to a nearby chemical spill or just about anything in between.

In the past, emergency and crisis management consisted mainly of adverse weather scenarios that were generally focused toward tornadoes and hurricanes, and ultimately took into consideration the wildfires in the West and Midwest — ultimately resulting in the creation of the incident command system. Today, with so many threats— campus security executives must have a crisis management plan in place and ready to go at a moment’s notice.

The trend I’m seeing is a movement away from a simple, baseline crisis management program that emphasizes emergency management and disaster recovery, to a more robust and diversified approach that integrates business continuity and enterprise risk management to create a holistic crisis plan and overall view of operations.


Peeling the Onion: Layers of Notification

Most events can be grouped into two levels: routine emergencies and crisis emergencies. The question is, at what juncture the routine emergency becomes a special event or crisis emergency, and who makes that distinction.

Baseline crisis management response plans should be focused on the deployment of “layers of notification” — this is necessary to ensure the full saturation of a potentially life-saving emergency message. You must be able to communicate with the entire facility and/or the entire constituents, and if the first method is unsuccessful, there must be a second, third and fourth option.

Many different modes of communication can be used based on the emergency situation (routine emergency or crisis). Let’s peel the layers of the “notification onion”:

E-mail only is sufficient only from a “routine emergency” standpoint where immediate notification is not a requirement — such as a broken water pipe.

Emergency Notification, either through SMS text messages, voice cell messages and e-mail, can apply to all occupants in a timely fashion (depending on the number of phone numbers), using a hosted delivery system. For example, at Kennesaw State University, Blackboard’s ConnectED system can send an SMS text message to approximately 30,000 recipients within two minutes. An additional voice cell message can be sent along with the text for backup notification, and e-mail can be a third layer. Additionally, the Kennesaw State University alert pop-up system enables a message to be sent to any computer on our network, regardless of location. This also serves as a redundancy in case cell phone messaging fails due to “dead zones,” etc. Messages sent via this system will remain on the computer screen until the office of Strategic Security and Safety removes the message.

Mass Communications Systems include siren and giant voice systems, and digital signage, among others. Individual siren systems at Kennesaw State are used for specific sheltering-in situations only, such as an active shooter scenario, tornado warning or hazardous material spill. The warning signal is distinct, and we have educated our students, faculty and staff what to do if they hear the sirens — seek refuge. There is a voice message directing people to seek shelter that follows the siren activation, but we greatly discourage anyone from going back outside to hear what the message is saying. At the same time, digital scrolling messages relative to the emergency alert is being sent to specific large-screen monitors throughout the campus buildings. This allows for notification to those who are moving between buildings.

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