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4 Ways Education Emergency Managers Can Keep Students, Faculty Safe

Mobile platforms and digital technology are quickly replacing paper, but emergency managers still need to stay sharp.

by / March 18, 2015
On Dec. 14, 2012, a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Connecticut, killing 20 children and six adults. This photo was used for a “Snowflakes for Sandy Hook” donation project that raised funds to support the children and their community following the shooting. In today's world, emergency managers in education have increasingly more tools available to help keep their student and faculty populations safe. Flickr/Nica Wolf/Photo by Veronica Scrol

Paper is dying a fast death. Libraries, bookstores and generations of older readers keep it alive, while the convenience and low cost of technology drives society toward a paperless future – a future that, when coupled with the rising ocean levels, begins to resemble a world like the one featured in Kevin Costner’s 1995 film Waterworld. At the intersection of rising water levels, digital technology and vanishing physical texts are the leaders of emergency management in the education world, as they survey the horizon for pirates.

Each month, emergency managers find new tools available in the market that can keep their student and faculty populations safe – tools like cloud-based safety platform CrisisManager, made by SchoolDude, which works with more than 6,000 institutions. And the company's CrisisManager platform enables faculty to reach people quickly during emergencies, instantaneously relaying varying instructions to emergency responders, faculty, parents and students.

On March 15, the company hosted a three-day event called SchoolDude University East in Myrtle Beach, S.C., where security experts gathered and shared knowledge about incidents ranging from harsh weather to school shootings. In preparing for the event, the company highlighted four best practices that emergency managers in education should be aware of.

  1. Make safety plans available on smartphones. 
  2. Train people how to handle emergencies.
  3. Customize mobile-enabled safety plans based on each population’s role. Permissions should be set so that each group receives only the information they need.
  4. Communicate mobile plans so everyone knows what resources are available and that they can receive text alerts and push notifications.

Scott Burnotes, director of emergency management at the University of Miami, said these recommendations are sound. “They’re right in line with a lot of things that emergency managers such as myself are trying to do,” he said, adding that using smartphones and digital technology is still new relative to the paper-based documents that have been in use for so many decades.

The University of Miami doesn’t use an app specifically designed for emergencies, Burnotes explained, but emergency plan information is included in the school’s all-in-one app, which has the benefit of reaching more students.

“The university’s app has way more downloads than we could ever get if we just created our own app,” he said.

And while a move to digital technology provides many benefits, it shouldn’t be thought of as a panacea, Burnotes said, because many of the same barriers and challenges for emergency managers remain with new technology. For instance, he said, reaching and educating an audience is still a crucial step, because an emergency app is useless if people either don’t download it or don't know how to use it. It’s also important to ensure that the technology is robust and that people can access the information they need, even when the Internet, cell towers or other technology fails, he added.

“To successfully implement something like what they’re talking about, like an app or even a paper copy, you need leadership support and you need participation of the end users of that product,” Burnotes said. “I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of these products.”

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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