Reposted from Campus Safety Magazine
The COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous changes to the ways campuses operated, none more so than to the way they communicated. While many campuses used mass notification systems to deal with pressing emergencies, like active shooters, the pandemic presented a long-term challenge that needed to be actively managed. Many campuses quickly realized how ill-prepared they were to deal with this kind of crisis, requiring them to discover creative uses for tools they already had in place.
Mass notification systems went from being a tool used to communicate about an immediate threat on campus, to a primary tool for providing operational updates to people students and staff whether they were on campus or remote. Mass SMS text messaging, push notifications and emails that could reach people on their mobile devices became critical forms of communication. Shifting guidelines and the closing and reopening of campuses required constant interaction and updates. Campus leaders could not afford to have people wait around for the information they needed or to take proper precautions to mitigate the spread of the virus. Rapid, direct communications delivered at regular intervals helped keep people informed and avoided making a bad situation worse.
Those communications also helped organizations get a better sense for how their communities were handling the crisis. Mass notifications sent asking for a confirmation response or with links to symptom surveys allowed campus leaders to know that messages were being read and gave their community members the ability to pre-screen before engaging in campus activities.
Mass notification systems that offered scheduling features also helped campuses welcome people back as they reopened. Recorded audio and text messages could be scheduled to broadcast at regular intervals with health and safety reminders for people to wash their hands, maintain social distance and wear masks.
The ability to customize message text and groups also helped campuses reach the right people with the right information. The instructions given to students were often different than those given to faculty and other staff members. Campus leaders were able to provide updates with flexible messaging options that allowed them to include the latest details about the ongoing situation. Being able to provide clearly outlined information helped to minimize confusion so everyone knew what they should do and when they should be doing it.
As the pandemic continued, many campuses discovered the incident management benefits mass notification systems offer. By sending out notifications that invited key stakeholders to join conference calls and virtual collaboration spaces, organizations were able to get people together quickly who could assess the situation and determine the best course of action.
In a small way, the pandemic has offered campuses the opportunity to familiarize themselves with their mass notification systems in a way they may not have been before. Understanding the full capabilities of their tools will make campuses better positioned to prepare for and address future emergencies as normal operations resume.
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