Schools turn to Twitter during campus emergencies?

Earlier this month, a Southern California school district went into lockdown as police searched for suspects in a shooting that took place near both an elementary and a middle school. The Modesto Bee later reported that the school emergency would have been “the perfect opportunity” for the district to use their Twitter account. The article reported that Twitter would have been an ideal way to send out general information to parents and to circulate emergency notifications under circumstances such as a shooting near campus. The article reports that the school had a Twitter account but that they had not been active on it in months. Will a tweet about an emergency situation reach the right people at the right time? What happens when schools rely on Twitter to reach parents, relatives and the surrounding community? PSW asked Patrick Fiel, ADT’s public safety advisor, to find out more about how effective Twitter could potentially be in an emergency situation. Fiel says that while using Twitter for emergency notification is an interesting concept, however Twitter is not nearly as robust as a mass notification system and it is not likely to reach as many people as quickly and as accurately as a well-planned and tested mass notification system. Mass notification systems are highly reliable, Web-based systems with stringent security standards, dedicated to delivering both emergency and routine notification via multiple channels. I.e...Telephone; fax machine, digital pager, cell phone, wireless PDAs and e-mail. Messages can be automatically translated in up to 10 languages and the costs for theses services are minimal. Twitter’s occasional reliability problems have left more than a few users staring at the site’s cheerful, apologetic “FailWhale” when the site goes down. For everyday tweets, a site outage is an inconvenience. But if school administrators rely on Twitter to disseminate urgent information and an outage occurs, it could cause confusion, questions and it could make securing the school a more difficult task. Fiel said that Twitter could be used to keep parents, students and the community up-to-date on school events such as canned food drives, parent meetings and other special events; emergency notification is best left to a dedicated mass notification system and a well-trained staff of dedicated teachers and administrators.

- PSW Staff