You know when a certain type of technology is really hot – when most everyone in Congress votes to provide federal grants so that organizations can buy it. That’s the case with mass notification on college and university campuses when Congress this summer reauthorized the Higher Education Act. Support for emergency and mass notification is a door that has opened for campus security executives. But it also opens up complexities. There are numerous solutions from numerous product and service sources that go in numerous ways.

Tips for Choosing Emergency Mass Notification Systems

  • For schools considering mass notification systems, here are a few considerations:
  • Use multiple technologies to deliver emergency messages, such as Visual Messaging, SMS/Text, Email and Public Address. This multi-tiered approach allows for communication overlap in the event of weak cell phone coverage or limited reach of other systems. Read about this comprehensive communication strategy in Inova Solutions’ free position paper, A Holistic Approach to Mass Notification, available for download here.
  • Coordinate public address and visual messaging systems for optimal reach, especially for large congregation spaces like student unions, cafeterias and lecture halls to minimize the impact of noise often accompanying a crisis and support the disabled population as required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
  • For visual displays, LED screens deliver crisp, clear messages to large areas. 
  • LEDs are brighter than LCD screens and can be read easily at more than 100 feet, even through smoke and dust. (LCDs have up to 20-foot viewing range and limited viewing angle.)
  • LED displays are durable, with an expected life of 10 years (three times that of LCDs)
  • LED displays consume far less power than LCDs. Ethernet-powered displays can use redundant network power to survive outages.

In one example, Virginia Tech is now installing over 200 displays to instantly communicate vital information to large groups of students, staff and faculty in public areas. The displays from Inova have dual use: for mass notification in classrooms and common areas. But when no emergency message is needed, the displays show accurate time and date to ensure synchronized school operations. The displays are powered by existing network connections using standard Power over Ethernet (POE) technology.

In addition to the Higher Education Act, the Commonwealth of Virginia recently passed legislation requiring colleges and universities to establish comprehensive, prompt and reliable first-warning and notification plans by January 1, 2009.

Even more important, reauthorization of the federal Higher Education Act mandates emergency and disaster planning, including mass notification, and offers federal grants for the purchase of mass notification and other key security systems.