Mobile Safety Platform Gets University Campus Emergency Response Plans Moving

Northwest Missouri State University’s emergency plans now travel with students, faculty and staff.

by / December 12, 2014
Northwest Missouri State University uses a mobile platform to make its emergency plans available via smartphone. Wikimedia Commons/Kbh3rd

At Northwest Missouri State University, emergency response plans that once sat idle on the school’s website now travel with students, faculty and staff in their pockets and purses on mobile devices.

For more than a year, the university has been using a mobile safety platform to put its emergency plans and procedures in the hands of those who might need them, making its campus population more informed and resilient.

To make its plans mobile, the university is using CrisisManager, a platform that since October has been provided by SchoolDude after a partnership with the tool's creator, RockDove Solutions. The tool is a publishing platform designed to take a school's static plans around significant events and put them on smartphones and other mobile devices for easy access. 

Mike Ceperley, the university’s emergency management coordinator, knew students weren't likely to comb the school’s webpage during an incident. That's why soon after his appointment to the newly created emergency management coordinator position, he set out to find a way make sure everyone had access to the university's emergency plans.

"When you're talking about 6,500 students, how do you deliver that information?” Ceperley said. “You can't sit them down and go over the procedures."

Using CrisisManager, schools can publish their plans, safety procedures and contact information by type of incident and tailor them to the user’s needs. Northwest Missouri State University, for instance, created 19 incident categories — more than it had on its website — tabbed under three plans for its different audiences, including those at its outreach centers, members of its crisis management teams, and students, staff and faculty. Each plan involves different information and instructions for the stakeholders.

Under the tabs, incidents include fire, hostile intruder, bomb threats and winter weather. According to student feedback, the weather-related tabs are most frequently used, which include tips like how to travel safely and prepare for advancing cold weather, Ceperley said. The hostile intruder tab encourages and outlines a run, hide, fight response.

It took some time to rewrite and condense the university's policies that now read like "CliffsNotes" of the original procedures. Ceperley published them on the mobile platform, then called in the school's leadership team to assess.

With that, the university was one of the original adopters of the technology and unveiled the app during its spring 2013 freshmen orientation and registration, where staff members passed out printed instructions on how to download it. Parents at these events were especially enthusiastic about getting the emergency information on students' phones.

Since then, the university has highlighted the mobile-enabled plans whenever it could, by stapling the download instructions to parking permits, advertising them on the university's home page and having Ceperley speak at campus events. The university also held staffwide training events.

One of the keys to the technology is its availability with no Wi-Fi connection because the plans live on mobile devices, and when they are updated, they are downloaded again. "Having it on the device is incredible," Ceperley said. "You don't have to be worried about being connected to have it." 

Through the password-protected tool, schools can publish their safety plans and procedures, instantly update them, send push notifications and offer incident reporting, including locating those in crisis by GPS and getting information via photos. There is also an emergency alarm and flashlight accessible through the app.

The cost for using the platform is based on student enrollment for public and private K-12 schools and total faculty and staff members at higher education institutions. As an example of pricing, a school district with 2,500 students would pay $2,250 annually for the platform.

When it signed up last year, Northwest Missouri State University got the base model, which included three different plans and 12 incident tabs, though it was able to stretch that to 19, paying $2,900.

The tool can be used in conjunction with other school-alerting systems, which serve different purposes. Email, for instance, can be used for longer-form and more detailed communication with parents following an emergency event.

Overall, Ceperley has found student users to be interested in the app, though he said they are sometimes reluctant to create an account as it takes a step to create a password. Last year, there were about 1,200 downloads, and this year there have been about 600.

Ceperley said the platform fits in with today’s connected environment and the way people access information. Especially for students, "If it's not on their phone, they're not going to read it.”

This story was originally published by Emergency Management

Jessica Hughes Contributing Writer

Jessica Hughes is a regular contributor to Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines.

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