A Step-by-Step Guide for Emergency Situation Management (Part 1 of 3)

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Understanding Every Step

Managing a crisis, regardless of the size of your organization, is a complicated process. It requires intense planning, training and practice to operate smoothly under stressful situations. Our team works everyday to provide effective notification solutions for organizations around the world to help manage these kind of events. Part of how we accomplish that is by talking with experts about the challenges they face in their day-to-day operations.

We recently hosted a webinar to discuss situation management featuring two higher ed security management professionals: Bill Curtis, director of emergency management at UW-Madison police department; and Chris Grant, emergency manager and San Bernardino Community College District. They shared their expertise on how their organizations handle crisis situations. We'll summarize their insights in a series of blog posts and the full webinar is available below.

 

 

Working with Local Law Enforcement

As a starting point, both experts stressed the importance of having a strong working relationship with local law enforcement to facilitate communication and responsiveness during an emergency. Grant and his campuses were impacted by the San Bernardino shooting that occurred in 2015. While first learning about the event through social media, Grant was able to leverages the college’s mass notification system to spread the word. However, Grant cites a disadvantage between the public’s ability to spread information quickly, and his organizations need to vet information and provide accurate details about an event before sending a message.

Following the event, Grant and his team were able to identify gaps they needed to fill within their messaging system. Being a small community college district, they rely heavily on their law enforcement partners to help manage these type of situations. The problem was, the colleges were not tied into law enforcement communication channels or vice versa. Over the past year, he and his team have worked to rectify that to help combat misinformation and get information out in a timely manner.

Learn more about how social media can help and harm during a crisis

At UW-Madison, when someone calls 911 from a landline on campus, that call is directed to the college’s 911 call center. If someone is inside the city or county and they call 911 from a mobile device, the call is routed through the county dispatch center and is then redirected to the campus 911 call center to dispatch proper personnel quickly. Information is easily exchanged between the two centers so they can respond quickly if anyone is need of help.

Starting the Management Process

When it comes to understanding a situation is in progress and starting to manage it, each expert has a different approach. For Grant and his team always have a disaster duty officer on call who is trained and certified in response. They rely on the county system and their dispatch team to provide them with information. Once they have the information and confirm the type of incident taking place, they leverage their mass notification system to target specific groups that have been prebuilt in anticipation for the event. Certain individuals are also pulled into a conference call and someone is designated to vet and relay information.

At UW-Madison they rely on good judgment and experience to understand when situations need to be elevated. When the dispatch center receives a 911 call or has an alarm tripped, a quick assessment is made by the dispatcher or the officer in charge to determine if additional resources are required. The manager on call is then notified by the dispatch center if a large incident is occurring and that person is then responsible for escalating and managing the situation. Throughout this process, additional calls are being made and the determination for whether or not a mass notification needs to be sent out.

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Messages are built with as much details as possible ahead of time at Grant’s campuses, but when an event is active there are point people who can then spread the message to larger groups. His goal is not to send the same message to everyone because each incident needs some localized customization.

At UW-Madison, Curtis has several people on back up to help disseminate messages to people who need the information. They keep it contained to the police department and emergency management. So when a determination is made that an emergency notification needs to be sent, they use template messages to quickly send out a message.

This is part one of a three-part series. Part two will look at how to leverage social media for monitoring and communication purposes, as well as how and when to utilize a spokesperson to communicate with people outside of an organization in an official capacity. Part three will discuss different methods for engaging with groups and the frequency with which organizations should engage them.

 

 

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