Initially established to bring increased transparency to campus crime reporting following the death of Jeanne Clery, a nineteen-year-old woman killed while on a college campus, the Clery Act has expanded significantly since its inception in 1990.

The Clery Act provides many prescriptive requirements related to the collection and publishing of crime statistics, safety and security policies, and necessities related to emergency preparedness. In 2008, the Higher Education Opportunity Act widened the scope of the Clery Act to include emergency response and notification provisions. Among the elements included in the expansion, issuing emergency alerts to the campus community continues to receive significant attention from institutions across the US. While the Clery Act doesn’t require an institution to use a particular mode of communication for emergency alerting, it does encourage the use of overlapping means of notification.

Similar to other large higher education institutions, the University of Miami has multiple campuses spread across different law enforcement jurisdictions. However, the University uses a single platform, Rave Alert, a mass notification technology from Rave Mobile Safety, to issue emergency alerts with critical life-safety information through multiple methods of communication to the entire University community.

The complexities within the emergency response and communication portion of the Clery Act can be daunting, but the following are some of the best practices we’ve built on over the years to ensure compliance and maximize use of our alerting system:

1. Standardize Procedures

Maintaining institutionally standardized procedures is a critical step in ensuring the safety of any campus community and maintaining compliance with the Clery Act.

When large-scale emergencies occur at the University of Miami, they are classified as either “immediate” or “potentially” life-threatening. This initial classification is based on several factors including, but not limited to, incident type, area(s) impacted, details provided by the reporter and relationship of the reporter to the incident. Rapidly classifying the incident allows the University to initiate a response commensurate with the threat level.

After classifying the incident, on-duty police and public safety communications operators determine whether an emergency alert must be immediately issued. Having clear, concise, and actionable information is critical when communicating to a large population across multiple channels.

For incidents that create an immediate threat to life-safety, communications operators are empowered to launch an entirely pre-scripted alert that is consistent with the nature of the incident. From past incidents, we have learned that these communications operators play an all too critical role in multiple high stress and time sensitive aspects of the initial response.

By providing them with the ability to activate a fully pre-scripted alert, we ensure that the message is issued in a timely manner and minimize the opportunity for errors in the content of the alert.

(Next page: 2 more steps to Clery Act Compliance)

2. Ensure Operational Readiness and Regular Testing

The testing of any piece of technology is critical to ensuring it remains operational.

Beyond testing to ensure the system is operational from a technical standpoint, there is a secondary and equally important reason to conduct regular tests: to ensure proficiency and comfort with the system for those individuals responsible for issuing an alert.

At the start of each shift, communications operators are required to launch an internal test message to a limited user group to ensure the operational readiness of the system, and to increase user familiarity with the interface. This is critically important for a system that’s used infrequently and must be rapidly activated during high stress incidents.

In addition to daily tests, we routinely conduct a full test of all methods of communication at least once a year. These full system tests ensure compliance with the Clery Act, verify the functionality of the alerting system, and keeps the University community aware of emergency alerting capabilities.

3. Crafting Custom Alerts Takes Unique Skills-Hone Them

Over the years, incidents at the University of Miami have helped us learn the best and most effective way to utilize our mass notification system.

When initially implementing Rave Alert, we quickly learned that creating a new emergency alert for every incident was inefficient and left too much room for error. A broad range of different alert templates were progressively developed based on the University of Miami’s hazard and threat profile.

However, incidents that occur with less frequency, and have greater complexity, create challenges with communicating simplified and actionable information to a university community; even when using a template alert. To improve response during these incidents, a select group of public safety and communications officials are regularly provided advance training, and are entrusted with rapidly crafting custom alerts to address the unique issues associated with more complex incidents.

Additionally, utilizing training mode in Rave Alert allows these officials to regularly conduct self-initiated and instructor-led drills without fear of activating a live alert.

No incident is the same, and our team relies on plans, procedures, and high levels of coordination to ensure the University is prepared to rapidly issue critical life-safety information to the community, in addition to adhering to the requirements established in the Clery Act.

About the Author:

Matthew Shpiner is the director of the Office of Emergency Management at the University of Miami.


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