Emergency alerts have always been a part of the fabric of our daily lives, whether a fire alarm, tornado warning siren or road hazard sign. What is different today than in the past is that we have many more means of delivering warnings and seemingly more opportunities to use those means than any of us would like. (Note: I wrote this post over the weekend and before the Boston Marathon tragedy on Monday afternoon. Unfortunately, there appears to have been no information that would have triggered a warning prior to this act of terror.)
To be sure I wasn’t imagining that things were worse than they are, this past Friday before leaving work I did a quick search of Google News using the keyword “lockdown.” What I learned is that more than eight reports of lockdowns had occurred around the country in less than 24 hours, including five schools, two colleges and one hospital:
- 16 minutes ago – WTSP 10 News/MyFox Tampa Bay – Manatee school on lockdown after man fires gun in the air
- 21 minutes ago – CBS News – Trenton hospital on lockdown after 2 found shot
- 1 hour ago – WDTN – Chase puts Preble school on lockdown
- 2 hours ago – WTNH – New Haven school put in lockdown after shots heard
- 3 hours ago – KOKH FOX25/KOCO Oklahoma City – 2 sought in OKC bank robbery; School lockdown ended
- 4 hours ago – CBS News – NC college lifts lockdown after report of armed man
- 11 hours ago – wtkr.com/The Virginian-Pilot –Lockdown lifted at Elizabeth City State University
- 18 hours ago – Ct Post – Greenwich High lockdown frighteningly familiar
As if the tragedies in Columbine, Colo; Blacksburg, Va.; Aurora, Colo.; and Newtown, Conn. weren’t enough, the threat of some horrific happening seems to be not only an occasional occurrence but a regular occurrence.
The necessary response to this epidemic of mindlessness is, to use the familiar Scout motto, be prepared. Which leads me to the question: Is there any municipality, government agency, institution or business that can afford not to have an emergency alert system?
A new product announcement I posted last week from Omnilert LLC, a Leesburg, Va., company that specializes in emergency notification software, got me thinking about emergency alert systems, in particular multi-modal systems in which both audible and visual modes of messaging are used: alarms, bells, sirens, public address systems on the one hand, and static signage, computer displays, smartphones, tablets and digital signs on the other.
At the same time I received a copy of Sean Matthews’ handout for his Industry Vertical Discussion Group session on “Campus Alerts: Incorporating Digital Signage in Your Crisis Communications Plan ” at DSE 2013.
Matthews, the president of Atlanta-based Visix Inc., and his company have been actively involved in the implementation of emergency notification systems on college campuses for years, and he first taught a session on this topic at DSE East in 2008.
As the technology and urgency have changed over the years, Matthews has updated and expanded on the information he provides in his discussion groups and in the accompanying handout, which we’ve arranged for you to download here.
Keep in mind that each component of a comprehensive emergency alert system plays its own role, either complementing or supplementing the other. An audible alarm may tell you something is amiss, for example, but a digital sign using words and images can show you where to go or what to do. Digital signage isn’t the end-all and be-all for emergency messaging, but as evident in Matthews’ handout, any system without it is missing a key communication component.
This column was reprinted with permission from the Digital Signage Connection and originally appeared here.