Ready, set, respond: the Virginia Tech tragedy prompted college and university leaders to plan in new ways for responding when the unexpected happens. A year later, how much progress has been made in bridging crisis communication gaps?NORTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY OFFICIALS HAD prepared for an act of violence. Shortly after the Virginia Tech tragedy, they appointed a panel to revise security measures Noun 1. security measures - measures taken as a precaution against theft or espionage or sabotage etc.; "military security has been stepped up since the recent uprising"
security and establish a new emergency action plan. That plan was put to the test on Valentine's Day Valentine's Day: see Saint Valentine's Day.
Lovers' holiday celebrated on February 14, the feast day of St. Valentine, one of two 3rd-century Roman martyrs of the same name. St. , when a former graduate student opened fire in a lecture hall lecture hall n → sala de conferencias;
(UNIV) → aula
lecture hall lecture n → amphithéâtre m
, killing five students before turning a gun on himself.
It happened as higher ed administrators and campus safety experts being interviewed for this story were asked how much things had changed and whether preparation for violence can ever really be enough.
In the aftermath of last April's Virginia Tech massacre The Virginia Tech massacre was a school shooting comprising two separate attacks about two hours apart on April 16, 2007, on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg, Virginia, United States. , in which a senior killed 32 people and then himself, higher ed leaders had no choice but to reexamine re·ex·am·ine also re-ex·am·ine
tr.v. re·ex·am·ined, re·ex·am·in·ing, re·ex·am·ines
1. To examine again or anew; review.
2. Law To question (a witness) again after cross-examination. their crisis preparedness efforts.
Effective communication between administrators is the first--and a strong--line of defense in a security incident, and the tragedy at Virginia Tech reemphasized this message at campuses nationwide, notes S. Daniel Carter
With the Northern Illinois For the university, see Northern Illinois University
Northern Illinois is a region generally covering the northern third of the U.S. state of Illinois. Economics shooting, officials responded immediately, sending notifications via e-mail, the web, and a public address system while instituting a campus lockdown Lockdown
A specified period when an employee of a public company is barred from selling - and occasionally buying - their company's stock.
These types of equity transaction restrictions can be imposed by securities regulators or underwriting firms if a company has . These actions couldn't save the five students killed that day, but, as Carter points out, it's crucial that administrators work to contain a campus emergency as quickly as possible. In the year since Virginia Tech, campus officials across the country are approaching crisis communication with renewed vigor and purpose.
TECHNOLOGY TO THE RESCUE
Technology has been a leading answer to improving crisis communications Crisis communications are generally considered a sub-specialty of the public relations profession that is designed to protect and defend an individual, company, or organization facing a public challenge to its reputation. , with mass notification system A modern notification system is a combination of software and hardware that provides a means of delivering a message to a set of recipients. For example, notification systems can send an e-mail when a new topic has been added to Wikipedia. adoptions exploding. Initial efforts after Virginia Tech focused on supporting SMS (1) (Storage Management System) Software used to routinely back up and archive files. See HSM.
(2) (Systems Management Server) Systems management software from Microsoft that runs on Windows NT Server. (short message service) text messaging Sending short messages to a smartphone, pager, PDA or other handheld device. Text messaging implies sending short messages generally no more than a couple of hundred characters in length. for alert notification, and a combination of new products and new vendors toting these products emerged. But the potential shortfalls of relying solely on single-mode communication were quickly shown.
"Colleges and universities now are considering and evaluating the underlying ability of equipment vendors and service providers to actually deliver alerts," says Barry Zipp, executive director of managed business applications for Verizon Business, which provides notification services for higher ed institutions such as Fairleigh Dickinson University Fairleigh Dickinson University, at Florham-Madison and Teaneck-Hackensack, N.J.; coeducational; incorporated and opened 1942 as a junior college, became a four-year college in 1948 and a university in 1956. (N.J.).
On the recipients' side, some students have been slow to embrace text messaging notification, due to the youthful feeling of invincibility, a reluctance to give out personal information, and, in some cases, the fees that some cell phone providers charge to send and receive texts. Colleges differ on how they conduct sign-ups, either voluntary or required. For example, Boston University Boston University, at Boston, Mass.; coeducational; founded 1839, chartered 1869, first baccalaureate granted 1871. It is composed of 16 schools and colleges. , which adopted an automatic notification system known as Send Word Now last summer, mandates that students provide an emergency alert phone number.
Though text messaging remains a major method for notification, many higher ed institutions have turned to multimodal Two or more modes of operation. The term is used to refer to a myriad of functions and conditions in which two or more different methods, processes or forms of delivery are used. On the Web, it refers to asking for something one way and receiving the answer another; for example requesting alert notifications to reach students, faculty, and staff in real time rather than relying on a single method. "A combination of e-mails, IP signage, calls, text messaging, and other methods are needed to help ensure reaching as much of the recipient population as possible," says Zipp.
A recent survey by the Association for Community Technology Professionals in Higher Education higher education
Study beyond the level of secondary education. Institutions of higher education include not only colleges and universities but also professional schools in such fields as law, theology, medicine, business, music, and art. (ACUTA ACUTA Association for Communications Technology Professionals in Higher Education
ACUTA Association of College & University Telecommunications Administrators
ACUTA Association of College and University Telecommunication Administrators ) shows schools are focusing on e-mail, text and voice alerts, alarms, sirens, and emergency annunciator an·nun·ci·a·tor
One that announces, especially an electrical signaling device used in hotels or offices to indicate the sources of calls on a switchboard.
an·nun systems (non-automatic methods of declaring an emergency).
ACUTA President Walt Magnussen, also director of telecommunications at Texas A&M University, advises that when considering an emergency notification system, "the key is not to put your eggs all in one basket."
In spring 2007, Texas A&M implemented e2Campus SMS text messaging, a service offered through Omnilert, naming it "Code Maroon" after the school color. The system can send time-sensitive messages to subscribers' mobile phones, e-mail addresses, and/or pagers. Out of about 54,000 students, faculty, and staff on campus, 57 percent are enrolled.
Along with Code Maroon, other alert methods used at Texas A&M involve a reverse 911 system for notifying key personnel, broadcasting messages over campus radio, inserting messages on television through its cable television plant, and sending bulk e-mails.
Ithaca College The college offers a curriculum with over 100 degree programs in its five schools:
Plans to install a loudspeaker system on campus are under way. "You never know what the situation is going to be, for people who don't have a cell phone with them or who are not by a computer," notes Brian McAree, vice president for Student Affairs Student affairs staff are responsible for academic advising and support services delivery at colleges and universities in the United States and abroad. The chief student affairs officer at a college or university often reports directly to the chief executive of the institution. and Campus Life. He adds that such a system "provides another vehicle for sending an important emergency message."
Fellow New Yorkers at Adelphi University Adelphi University (ədĕl`fī), at Garden City, N.Y.; coeducational; chartered 1896 as Adelphi College. Originally in Brooklyn, the school moved to its present location in 1929 and in 1963 achieved university status. began working with MessageOne last summer to use AlertFind, an emergency notification system that broadcasts urgent messages and delivers instructions to the campus community via the user's preferred method. This includes text or voice messages to a cell phone, home phone, or e-mail address. The system allows for two-way communication Two-way communication is a form of transmission in which both parties involved transmit information. Common forms of two-way communication are:
"Many of our students and faculty attend classes or work at multiple Adelphi locations. It would be impossible to know at any given time where an individual is during an emergency," says Gene Palma Palma or Palma de Mallorca (päl`mä thā mälyôr`kä), city (1990 pop. 325,120), capital of Majorca island and of Baleares prov., Spain, on the Bay of Palma. , executive director of Public Safety and Transportation and vice president of the Long Island College and University Consortium. "We have the MessageOne system set up so that all emergency notifications are sent out to the entire Adelphi community."
Adelphi also has an "all hazards" emergency response plan, which emphasizes fast reaction by senior university officials to incidents, swift notification of emergency services emergency services Emergency care '…services …necessary to prevent death or serious impairment of health and, because of the danger to life or health, require the use of the most accessible hospital available and equipped to furnish those services' , and prompt communication within the university community through a variety of means. Additional mechanisms include e-mail, voice mail, website alerts, emergency call-in numbers, TV, and radio broadcasts.
"Having multiple tools in order to receive emergency notifications is essential to any organization and its emergency response plan," says Palma. "By continuing to be proactive we hope to improve awareness of urgent university communications and increase our personal safety."
THE POWER OF IP
During a crisis, public safety officials need details just as the campus safety team does. Officials at Bryant University
Theodore Stowell (R.I.) implemented the Internet Protocol See Internet and TCP/IP.
(networking) Internet Protocol - (IP) The network layer for the TCP/IP protocol suite widely used on Ethernet networks, defined in STD 5, RFC 791. IP is a connectionless, best-effort packet switching protocol. Interoperability and Collaboration System (IPICS IPICS Internet Protocol Interoperability and Collaboration System (Cisco)
IPICS International Partnerships in Ice Core Sciences
IPICS Irish Production and Inventory Control Society
IPICS Ip Interoperability and Collaboration System ) by Cisco in 2006 for day-to-day direct radio communication between campus public safety, campus management, and its residential life office.
After Virginia Tech, they recognized the system's ability to connect campus safety officials to each other as well as to off-campus officials in a crisis.
By pushing a button, a Bryant official can share information directly by landline, cell phone, computer, or handheld radio. "If a situation arises, I don't have to worry about what that individual communicates with," says Rich Siedzik, director of Computer and Telecommunication Services.
Working with two area fire departments, Bryant extended IPICS first to a number of public safety agencies in its town, Smithfield, and then to neighboring Rhode Island Rhode Island, island, United States
Rhode Island, island, 15 mi (24 km) long and 5 mi (8 km) wide, S R.I., at the entrance to Narragansett Bay. It is the largest island in the state, with steep cliffs and excellent beaches. communities including North Smithfield, Glocester, and Woonsocket, and Connecticut's Quinebaug Valley Regional Dispatch Center. It's also connected with Rhode Island's E-911 system (which allows dispatchers to know a caller's exact location), an American Red Cross American Red Cross: see Red Cross. chapter, and emergency response contacts in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. IPICS allows a campus official to share information with as few or as many of these groups as needed as needed prn. See prn order. .
Bryant also uses Campus Manager, by Bradford Networks, a network access solution that reaches out to every laptop and desktop on campus. Through the solutions web-based administration console, a member of Bryant's Safety Office team can send a message to a group of users or all users, who see the message on their computer screen in a special pop-up box. Since Bryant has a student laptop program, Campus Manager helps with deploying information to the student body. "We took this route because this was a way to reach the most people," says Jon Domen, IT support analyst.
North of Bryant, Brandeis University Brandeis University, at Waltham, Mass.; coeducational; chartered and opened 1948. Although Brandeis was founded by members of the American Jewish community, the university operates as an independent, nonsectarian institution. (Mass.) officials concluded after Virginia Tech that a public address system was best for emergency notification. As a Cisco Voice over IP shop, Brandeis University has about 5,000 phones already in operation in classrooms, dorm rooms, and all staff areas. John Turner, director of networks and systems, and his colleagues settled on InformaCast, a server-based system from CDW CDW - data warehouse Berbee, as the best method for delivering emergency messages through Voice over IP. The system enables users to simultaneously push an audio stream and/or a text message to multiple IP phones, along with the system's IP speakers, desktop agent, and overhead paging systems. A user could select a prerecorded pre·re·cord
tr.v. pre·re·cord·ed, pre·re·cord·ing, pre·re·cords
To record (a television program, for example) at an earlier time for later presentation or use.
Adj. 1. message or send a live broadcast through a password-protected webpage or the IP phone services menu The Services menu (or simply Services) is a user interface element in a computer operating system. The services are programs that accept input from the user selection, process it, and optionally put the result back in the clipboard. .
Georgia Perimeter College Georgia Perimeter College is a two-year Associate degree granting unit of the University System of Georgia. GPC has multiple campus locations on the north and east side of Atlanta. , which also already had a Cisco-based IP telephony The two-way transmission of voice over a packet-switched IP network, which is part of the TCP/IP protocol suite. The terms "IP telephony" and "voice over IP" (VoIP) are synonymous. system in place (with nearly 2,000 IP handsets, including 300 classroom phones), adopted a notification system from Cistera Networks last fall. It involves two IP applications--Event and Alerting Notification (EAN EAN
experimental allergic neuritis. ) and Quality Assurance and Compliance (QAC QAC Queen Anne's County (Maryland, USA)
QAC Quality Assurance Committee
QAC Quaternary Ammonium Compound
QAC Quality Assurance Coordinator
QAC Quinte Arts Council (Ontario, Canada) )--which will be used for improving safety communications at its four main campuses in Clarkston, Decatur, Dunwoody, and Newton. The applications serve as a lifeline to buildings: EAN allows for the delivery of information to any communication device, while the QAC records and archives every communication for training and liability purposes. Prior to Virginia Tech, there wasn't an alert system for the classroom setting, notes Chris Burge, an IT consultant. "Not only can we also reach into a classroom and give a notification, a faculty member or staff or student could also pick up the phone and reach back out to public safety, so they can alert public safety of a situation that was happening in the building."
When implementing or expanding notification systems, campus officials should consider the need to keep family members of students and staff informed during a crisis. After all, moms and dads who learn of the crisis want to find out what's happening immediately.
Before Virginia Tech, Wilberforce University Wilberforce University, at Wilberforce, Ohio, near Xenia; African Methodist Episcopal; coeducational; chartered and opened 1856. Wilberforce provided one of the first opportunities for African Americans to pursue advanced academic training. (Ohio) had clear-cut protocols for a medical emergency or severe weather, as tornados are common in the area, but no method to send instant mass communication. "It was sort of a chain of events. You tried to make sure that whomever whom·ev·er
The objective case of whoever. See Usage Note at who.
the objective form of whoever: might be on the scene at the particular type of emergency knew what to do," says Provost Patricia L. Hardaway.
Before the end of last year, officials implemented Account4Me from Christopher Technologies. The emergency management system stores information on users' schedules and provides several ways to notify, identify, or locate registered users--and communicates their whereabouts to campus officials, emergency personnel, and staff and students' families. Users can also set up their own webpage and provide other contact information.
During a crisis, users would be notified by a voice phone call, e-mail, or text message. They could respond back to Account4Me by calling a toll-free number, e-mailing, texting, or going online to the Account4Me webpage to be accounted for by clicking a button that would let officials know they were safe. If in danger, they could press a "Contact Me" button to be connected to an emergency response commander for assistance.
A family member can dial into a toll-free number or log on to a loved one's web account (with a pin and password) to find out if he or she is all right. "It bridges that communication gap between our community and our loved ones loved ones npl → seres mpl queridos
loved ones npl → proches mpl et amis chers
loved ones love npl ," says Hardaway.
In recent years, Wilberforce officials have moved to strengthen capabilities to address and respond to various emergencies. Administrators are in the process of obtaining compliance with the Department of Homeland Security's National Incident Management System, which involves a series of classes, and expect to be completed by June.
"Even when you are totally up and running and you just tested the system, you always have a bit of alertness in the back of your mind because you just never know when something will happen. It's a situation where you are all prepared, but you just hope you never have to use it," says Hardaway.
Officials at Connecticut College have tried to walk the fine line between having the philosophy of respect for student privacy, while recognizing that parents want and need information in an emergency. "What we realized after Virginia Tech was that we would need to have a system for communicating with parents," explains Patricia Carey, vice president for college relations.
The decision to implement Blackboard Connect's Connect-ED in fall 2007 brought up a lot of conversation on campus about in what situations Connect-ED would be used and how parents would fit in to this procedure. Right now, it's for emergencies only.
Notifications can be sent just to the campus community or to emergency contacts as well. "We wanted to make sure that people felt comfortable sharing contact information with us and wouldn't worry about that [family members] would be deluged with messages they didn't want," says Carey.
Students register themselves or their parents or other emergency contacts to receive emergency communications. Faculty and staff also have this option.
After completing two system tests, officials discovered a flaw--some students had not contributed any names or even registered at all. If a student didn't register, then "we heard from parents," says Carey. So an emergency listserv for parents was created to send out updates and announcements as a situation evolves.
Currently, 94 percent of the college's 1,900 students and a vast majority of its 800 faculty and staff have registered with Connect-ED to receive emergency alerts.
Another approach being taken is considering the "what-ifs" that occur while trying to send out messages during a crisis. If a website crashes, there is an automatic backup website available, says Carey, "but it takes several hours for it to come up, and we're looking at whether we can speed that up."
If time allows, an emergency response team would meet and decide to use Connect-ED and draft a message; if not, the director of campus safety would be authorized to send out a message. There are talks now about which other officials should have access, too. "You want to set up checks and balances that we use the system well, but you also want it to be very flexible and able to respond to situations as they emerge," says Carey. "You can't prepare for everything, but I think we're in much better shape in terms of emergency response and communication than ever before and that does give me a good feeling."
PUTTING EFFORTS INTO ACTION
With emergency response, administrators have experienced incidences this past year that meant putting plans to practice.
Officials at Lynchburg College (Va.), located about two hours from Virginia Tech, put its new early alert warning system from Federal Signal to the test one night in January when a 911 call came from someone in a bathroom of the Tate Hall residence about an alleged hostage situation.
Officials sounded an early alert siren, the campus went into a lockdown mode, and the e-mail notification system went into operation. The Lynchburg Police Department SWAT team surrounded the residence hall and shortly after conducted a room-to-room sweep. The incident turned out to be false.
The night of the Tate incident, according to President Kenneth Garren, a lot of communication issues arose: how to help police correctly identify students and officials; when to send notices out via e-mail; and what to do when the call center is overwhelmed by incoming calls from concerned parents.
"The best thing I did all night was to go back and forth from the command post to the students," remembers Garren. "Every time there was anything [new], I went back to that group." He'll likely never forget the student who said, "As soon as we saw you here, we knew that everything was going to be okay."
At the University of Colorado University of Colorado may refer to:
Just prior to that, administrators had selected Rave Wireless' Rave Alert, which sends broadcast text messages to subscribers' cell phones. Students, faculty, and staff register their mobile phone numbers online. On the day of the incident, this message got out to 1,300 registered members.
Prior to Virginia Tech, UC Boulder had used standard methods of emergency communication such as fire alarms and sirens, and placed alerts on the school's website and portal. When re-examining their emergency notification plans, officials wanted to add text messaging due to its heavy usage by the student population. "It's a generation we are targeting. That's how they communicate," says Malinda Miller-Huey, director of web communications.
Two days after the stabbing, 6,600 new users had enrolled with Rave Wireless. Now, UC Boulder has more than 11,500 users, and 84 percent of those enrolled for text messaging are students. That's nearly one in three students. About the incident, Miller-Huey says, "It was good to know that we were able to alert students quickly: They felt reassured by that."
Mock drills are also helping campus leaders to see how their plans would come together during an incident. Some have initiated drills as a direct result of the Virginia Tech tragedy and some have been conducting drills already in the case of a natural disaster, a pandemic pandemic /pan·dem·ic/ (pan-dem´ik)
1. a widespread epidemic of a disease.
2. widely epidemic.
Epidemic over a wide geographic area.
n. , or terrorist attack.
Last August, the Public Safety Department at Siena Heights University Siena Heights University is a private Roman Catholic university in Adrian, Michigan, United States. It is located in the northeastern corner of Adrian on the highest land in the surrounding area. In 2004-05; Only 64% of applicants were admitted to the University. (Mich.) partnered with local fire, sheriff, and police departments to conduct a live training exercise its first drill involving an active shooter--at Dominican Hall. The academic building was chosen because of its high volume of use. It contains classrooms, lecture halls, a conference room, and computer labs. "We wanted to make the drill as realistic as possible, and that offered a physical space that had some challenges for both law enforcement and fire rescue," says Public Safety Director Cindy Birdwell. Actors simulated three different scenarios, including a shooting and a hostage taking.
The Public Safety team tested procedures already in place, such as communication with local law enforcement, response agencies, and university staff, as well as rapid response time and lockdown steps. Siena has conducted a major campuswide drill annually since 2004. "We've had a good proactive preparedness mentality for a long time here," says Birdwell. "What this has done has increased our desire to reach outside of our own university to improve our relations with all of the outside emergency response agencies, make sure that all of that preplanning and relationships are in place."
"If there's one good thing that can come out of such tragedies, it is that our campuses are paying attention to emergency preparedness," says Birdwell. "Maybe there will be something good that we can get from this awful series of events that have occurred. That is my hope."
Bureau of Indian Affairs Information Network, www.activeaccess.com
Blackboard Connect, www.nticonnected.com
Bradford Networks, www.bradfordnetworks.com
CDW Berbee, www.cdwg.com/highereducation
Christopher Technologies, www.christechinc.com
Cisco Systems, www.cisco.com
Cistera Networks, www.cistera.com
Enterasys Networks, www.enterasys.com
Federal Signal www.federalsignal.com
NEC (NEC Corporation, Tokyo, www.nec.com, www.necus.com) An electronics conglomerate known in the U.S. for its monitors. In Japan, it had the lion's share of the PC market until the late 1990s (see PC 98).
NEC was founded in Tokyo in 1899 as Nippon Electric Company, Ltd. Unified Solutions, www.necunified.com/highered
PIER Systems, www.piersystem.com
Prepared Response, www.preparedresponse.com
Rave Wireless, www.ravewireless.com
Security on Campus, www.securityoncampus.org
Send Word Now, www.sendwordnow.com
Timecruiser Computing Corporation, www.timecruiser.com
Getting Personal through Communication
Post-Virginia Tech communications also involve reaching individual students who may need help--before a crisis occurs. In September 2007, officials at Lebanon Valley College History
Lebanon Valley was founded on February 23, 1866, with classes beginning May 7 of that year and its first class graduating in 1870. Expenses at this time for a full year were $206.50 and remained relatively unchanged for the next 50 years. (Pa.) formed an Early Alert committee to identify, and if necessary, intervene with at-risk students. Meeting every other week, committee members raise and discuss concerns involving specific students whom they feel may be at risk and then form action plans for support. The committee is made up of heads of various departments involved in specific aspects of student life, from residential to financial to academic. These also include health services health services Managed care The benefits covered under a health contract , public safety, athletics, and the registrar's office.
The collaboration offers a checks-and-balances system, where one department might take notice of a student's behavior through regular interaction. It's hoped this broad range of membership will prevent students from falling through the cracks. "An office may be aware of stress going on in a student's life, maybe a change in family income or a loss of a family member, and other people who can help them may not be aware of that," says Gregory Krikorian, vice president for Student Affairs. "So that's part of the discussions that occur."
It's hard to pin down exactly how many of LVC's 1,700 students the committee has discussed, Krikorian says. On a regular basis, members may talk about matters relating to about 10 or so students, whose issues range from minor to significant. As a rule, every concern is considered important.
"We can talk about a student who might be isolated or not coming out of their room, not attending classes," says Krikorian, "and we want to make sure that we have some kind of action."
Along with the committee, LVC LVC Lebanon Valley College
LVC Laser Vision Correction
LVC Live Virtual Class (Sun Microsystems)
LVC Levi's Vintage Clothing
LVC Live Virtual Constructive (simulation space)
LVC Low Voltage Cutoff has a custom-made electronic early alert system enabling faculty and staff to submit the names of students they might be concerned about. A staff member will follow up with these students. There's also a partnership with health-related services in the local community, in the case a student needs off-campus help.
"I think the best practice is always bringing key players together to communicate effectively," says Krikorian. "Our methodology is to identify, engage, and support."