mass notification systems

5 tips for the best ROI from mass notification systems

A survey shows how little campuses actually use mass notification systems, despite the tools' big potential

Many campuses lack safety measures such as mobile safety apps and anonymous reporting tools, according to a new survey that sheds light on mass notification systems and a number of holes in campus safety efforts.

Just 22 percent of campuses surveyed in the Rave Mobile Safety study offer the ability to submit an anonymous tip to authorities, despite gun violence and mental health being among institutions’ top security concerns (23 percent and 22 percent).

Ninety-six percent of students in higher education own a smartphone, yet only 38 percent of surveyed institutions offer a mobile safety app for campus communities. The remaining 62 percent of campuses may offer apps soon, the survey notes, because 45 percent of respondents say they are researching or already are implementing a safety app.

Campuses should act quickly to leverage students’ smartphone use and offer more safety tools via devices, experts say.

“Communication preferences continue to change, and we are seeing this more than ever with the current body of students at our higher education campuses,” says Rave Mobile Safety CEO Todd Piett. “Smartphones are engrained in the Gen Z culture, and our colleges need to interact with students where they spend most of their time. We hope this data is able to shed some light on innovative ways to connect campus safety and first responders with students to enhance safety for all parties.”

It seems campuses don’t always get a return on investment from campus safety tools. Fifty-seven percent of surveyed institutions used their mass notification systems less than five times last year, while 22 percent used it less than twice last year. Eighty-five percent do not send notifications to visitors.

Survey respondents use mass notification systems to share a variety of time-sensitive information, including severe weather alerts (92 percent), active shooter emergencies (75 percent), class cancelations (59 percent), and Clery Act requirements (41 percent).

Email and text messaging remain the most popular forms of communication (96 percent and 95 percent), along with social media (65 percent) and voice messaging (60 percent).

The survey offers suggestions to help institutions get the most out of their investment in communication tools:

1. Expand the mass notification system’s reach and use it for both official and internal use, such as for campus transportation delays, cybersecurity threats, or campus events. Mass notification systems also could be used for campus events such as move-in days, to inform students and parents of schedules and parking restrictions.

2. Open campus to visitors to offer general information about event parking, activities during family weekends, or construction plans. Colleges and universities welcome visitors such as contractors, parents, guest lecturers, and conference attendees all the time and during all times of the year. Letting those visitors sign up for notifications can help in case of an emergency or during any other event.

3. Connect with Generation Z by leveraging their mobile-first mindset. These students are three times more likely to open a chat message through a push notification than an email, and they typically have very short attention spans. Generation Z students are more likely to be engaged with safety alerts and general information through their mobile devices.

4. Prioritize both gun violence and mental health. These issues follow severe weather as survey respondents’ biggest concerns. Despite mental health sitting firmly in respondents’ top three concerns, less than 10 percent say they use their mass notification systems to let students know about counseling resources and mental health services.

5. Create a safe place for students via anonymous tip reporting, which can help a student report a crime if they’re not ready to do so over the phone or in person, or if they have to report a situation but are afraid of retaliation from a classmate.

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Laura Ascione

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