Virginia Community Colleges Launch Emergency Notification Systems

"The launch of the emergency notification system fulfills one of the recommendations called for in the report of the Chancellor's Emergency Preparedness Task Force."

by / May 22, 2008

Seventeen Virginia community colleges have deployed the Roam Secure Alert Network (RSAN) from Cooper Notification in order to alert students, faculty and staff in cases of campus emergencies. These schools join Northern Virginia Community College, which launched an RSAN emergency notification system in August 2007. The network allows campus safety officials on each college campus to send targeted alerts via email, text and voice messaging, and other delivery channels.

"The launch of the emergency notification system fulfills one of the recommendations called for in the report of the Chancellor's Emergency Preparedness Task Force," said Neil Matkin, Vice Chancellor, Virginia Community College System (VCCS).

The report, commissioned in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007, directs campus safety personnel to coordinate with state and local first responders on emergency preparedness planning.

Some of the recommendations from the task force included:

  • Ensuring that there is an effective way to learn about campus safety concerns from students, faculty, staff, and other parties.
  • Ensuring that critical public information related to emergency procedures is distributed widely and that college stakeholders have ready access to such information.
  • Using a combination of methods to communicate to the maximum number of students, faculty, and staff.
  • Having redundant strategies for communication and notification in place should primary systems fail.
  • Layering of high tech and low tech notification methods, alert signals, and systems.

The report also directed the VCCS to implement student e-mail systems that can provide faster communication with emphasis on systems that can broadcast messages across e-mail, instant messaging, and text messaging clients on personal computers and cell phones. Other directions to Virginia community colleges from the report included ensuring campus Web sites are able to function with minimal disruption during large-scale crisis or emergencies; incorporating electronic signage at entrances to all campuses, providing sirens and spoken instructions to faculty, staff, students and visitors.

And while the report recommended colleges should consider implementing text messaging technology, subscribers must have the option to choose only to receive emergency messages, it said.

The web-based RSAN system supports over 18,000 messages per minute and automatically delivers real-time information and alerts to email, pagers, cell phones, BlackBerry, desktops, voice calls, indoor and outdoor speakers and more. Alerts can be generated from a single web interface, or using a mobile device. The systems are hosted in highly secure, fully redundant data centers for optimal performance and easy maintenance and support.

"Alerts can be sent to each individual campus using their individual RSAN systems, and information can be shared automatically with all the participating colleges within the VCCS via the Roam Secure Information Exchange (RSIX)," said Rick Tiene, vice president of Homeland Security Solutions, Cooper Notification. "The VCCS deployments will also be integrated with the over 30 existing RSAN systems at major cities, counties and other colleges across Virginia that are connected via RSIX and the Virginia Statewide Alerting Network (SWAN). The Virginia Department of Emergency Management manages the SWAN, which was the first statewide alert and information sharing system deployed in the United States."

The VCCS includes 23 colleges on 40 campuses located throughout the state. This year, the VCCS has an enrollment of more than 240,000 students.

Cooper Notification currently provides critical, campus-wide emergency communications for universities across the U.S., including George Mason University, James Madison University, University of California-Santa Barbara, several University of Maryland campuses, University of New Hampshire and University of Southern California. Over 200 RSAN systems are also currently operating across the country at local, state and federal government agencies, colleges, airports, hospitals, refineries and other key businesses.

RSAN is integrated with Cooper's mass notification solutions, including WAVES (Wireless Audio/Visual Emergency System) High Power Speaker Arrays, which broadcasts emergency messages over wide areas, SAFEPATH indoor voice evacuation system and Cooper Notification's Wheelock and MEDC branded fire and security devices.

Parents, alumni and friends of community college staff and students can also sign up for notifications at no charge by visiting the community colleges' Web sites.