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Is your university effectively using mass notification?

By Thomas Connell
February 24th, 2016

mass-notification-system

Customization, using social media and pushing out safety routes just some new capabilities of mass notification systems (MNS).

Anyone who says the use of mass notification is a new trend for education institutions and communities doesn’t fully understand it. Mass notification is as old as communication itself. Paul Revere blasted a verbal warning that “the British are coming.” The Cold War broadcasts interrupted TV shows with the message “this is a test of the emergency broadcast system.” Local volunteer fire departments conduct regular fire drills at the elementary schools. Some universities already send campus-wide text messages with class cancellations.

The Evolution of MNS

What has changed about mass notification is the methodology, the granularity and specificity of the message, and the customization to individual recipients or groups. Mass notification itself is a general term. With respect to critical events, the capability better fits into the category of “mass communications,” in which an organization sends a message through a communication channel to a large anonymous group of people and/or organizations.

So when did the transformation to modern mass notification systems (MNS) occur? Despite the advances through the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s, nearly every critical event during these time periods was characterized by dangerously ineffectual communication.

The problem garnered little national attention until the 1999 Columbine High School shooting cited definable mass communications issues in the immediate response and post-crisis victim response. Since this incident, the U.S. experienced an uptick in school and campus shootings. These tragedies continue to drive technological advancements in mass notification.

What Does it Look Like in the Real World?

Mass notification does not suffer for a lack of enabling technology, but few think about a comprehensive system rather than a singular solution. The greatest value of a well architected MNS, however, is that it can deliver varied and customized communications to large groups of people sharing a commonality.

MNS have traditionally been divided into three segments: in-building, wide area and distributed messaging. All three of these segments contain similar components. That’s because the physical location does not demand a specific combination of technologies and methodologies. Instead, technologies are selected based on the specific event, message content, intended result and most importantly, the recipient.

While many people associate MNS with fire alarms and text message alerts, today’s systems incorporate many other modes of communication from an email notification to strobe lights or automated phone calls. For larger open campuses, an MNS could include a loud speaker, which can sound a siren notification or even an automated message.

(Next page: Social media, targeted messaging, how to start)


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