Extending Notification to Campus Parking
Most challenges facing campus parking facilities usually have been related to two types of events: emergency and the service/information situations. The essential question campus security officials needed to address for both was: “How can an individual inside the parking facility notify the appropriate person on the outside about the assistance they need?”
These days, as college and university safety systems and procedures are in the process of undergoing extensive re-evaluations, at least in part due to the Virginia Tech tragedy, campus security officials also must address the exact opposite issue: “How can security officials on the outside inform those inside the parking facility of what is going on, and what action they should be taking for their own safety and well-being?”
An effective campus-wide mass notification system is recognized as an absolute necessity for every school campus, and is an essential component in containing the potential impact of a crisis.
Although planning and deploying such a system is always challenging to campus security officials, on-campus parking facilities in particular can potentially pose special difficulties in the deployment and use of some common elements of a campus notification system.
Campus Parking vs.
A study completed by a team at the University of Central Florida to address the needs of campus alert/mass notification systems suggests that an effective and efficient mass notification system must meet three requirements (for details, see sidebar):
The consensus – and reality – is that there is no all-in-one solution that will provide complete notification to the entire affected population. Instead, experts suggest that campus security officials focus on assembling the best possible combinations of alert and notification equipment that will ultimately result in systems capable of delivering constant and varying messages to all areas on a campus in the event of an emergency.
A survey of college campuses showed that the best possible campus-wide notification systems involved the use of sirens, reverse 911, cellphone alerts and broadcasts.
Although these methods may be effective for most on-campus locations, in the parking facility, some of these methods are limited in their ability to notify individuals inside the facility of an emergency situation or to convey a site-specific message.
Sirens are one of the most commonly used alert systems, but a comprehensive survey found that 95% of the respondents did not know the difference in the meaning between an alternating steady siren and a wail siren tone. Ultimately, inside an enclosed parking facility, sirens are effective in providing a general alert, but are limited in carrying a precise message.
The same survey also found that 50% of the students would not immediately pick up a ringing phone, thus limiting the use of reverse 911, another popular alert method. In addition, because of the parking facility’s solid infrastructure, reliance on the use of cellphone alerts as a way of notifying an individual is problematic at best.
Broadcasts, in the traditional sense, deliver only general messages. In order to be most effective, individuals inside a parking facility in a campus-wide emergency must be able to receive site-specific information and evacuation/safety procedures.
Campus Parking’s Best Approach to Mass Notification
The intense reassessment of campus security has lead to advances in communications equipment that provide solutions that overcome the challenges put forth by campus parking.
The recent emergence of the latest class of wide-area emergency broadcast systems is a perfect example of this progress, and currently represents the best possible solution for mass notification that will not potentially exclude the parking facility.
These systems, in wall-mount form, are a combination of emergency phone and warning system, adapted specifically toward the communication needs of the campus environment with attention to the limitations of areas such as a remote parking facility.
Like traditional emergency/information phone stations, the wide-area broadcast system features a blue light/strobe and emergency phone that provides two-way communication for personal emergencies and service calls. Unlike traditional phone stations, the new systems feature powerful re-entrant speakers capable of broadcasting live messages, recorded automated messages and siren tones.
Emergency phone towers, used in open parking lots, also can be combined with wide-area emergency broadcasting system capability to provide location-specific announcements.
Although these systems provide powerful broadcasts, they are still far more focused than the traditional warning systems, such as those used for tornado alerts, and can be strategically placed throughout campus parking, as well as other facilities, to deliver localized and site-specific broadcasts to different areas that are all controlled from a single command station.
Through this integrated system, campus security officials can receive emergency phone calls; maintain visual and auditory communication with the station’s location; and transmit emergency messages via phone line or wirelessly to the stations individually, in selected groups or in all-call for larger area coverage, and essentially notify an entire campus of an emergency situation and procedures within a matter of seconds.
An effective and reliable emergency mass notification system that includes all parking facilities should be included in every campus communication system.
Planning for the proper configuration of such a system has become more involved. Officials must provide not only for the growth in the size and variety of potential threats, but also for the weaknesses resulting from the campuses themselves, emanating from areas of risk such as parking facilities.
Therefore, it is essential that each individual institution undertake a comprehensive survey and study of its own grounds and parking facilities to determine its best course and combinations for mass notification and procedures.
Samuel Shanes is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Talk-A-Phone Co. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Emergency Notification Requirements
• The system must be able to reach and inform a large population of students and teachers and surrounding areas within a small interval of time.
• The system must be able to deliver site-specific information to people in different areas.
• The system must provide back-up power and phone capabilities in the event of a power outage or downed telephone service.