Less than a year after the tragedy at Virginia Tech, disaster struck again in the form of a gunman at Northern Illinois University. These events have happened before; unfortunately, I have no doubt that they’ll happen again. Any kind of disaster with a 100% probability should be top priority for a serious contingency planner. In keeping with the idea of devoting planning resources to events that are most likely to happen, I’ve written now and again about emergency notification systems designed to disseminate the word after a catastrophic event.
No matter how good the recovery plan, it can’t succeed if communication is impeded among those responsible for recovery. In previous articles, I’ve underscored the need for 4Ci (command, control, communications, computers, and intelligence), including concluding that today’s complex organizations require a military level of command and control in any disaster response. In this article, I’ll discuss some new options I’ve discovered that are designed to get the word out immediately if the unthinkable happens.
There are challenges in deploying any emergency mass-notification system effectively. Communications in time of crisis is a growing concern facing nearly every commercial business, school, community, and municipality. A successful solution delivers relevant, prompt alert communications in emergency situations; saves time and resources; ensures productivity; and, most importantly, saves lives. Many such systems are available. Search the Web to learn about what’s out there, the level of control for each such system, and its affordability.
One-Way Mass Notification
Consider one method of communication that most people overlook: a low-power AM radio station. Useful for airport and traffic control to broadcast information to the public, a radio station is also effective in campus environments and universities. When I was mayor of a small municipality, we bought one of these stations to augment a siren system purchased at the same time. The idea was that if citizens heard the siren go off, they would tune their radios to 880 kHz AM to see what was going on, rather than go look out the window and possibly get killed by a tornado or other event. In practice, it worked very well. In the "normal" mode, the system broadcasts community events and announcements. In a disaster, the fire or police department could quickly change the announcements and broadcast emergency instructions. Running at about $15,000, the station was relatively cheap given the peace of mind it provided. (The system has been in use for more than 10 years now and still is running, so the actual monthly cost over 120 months is much less than $200—a bargain by any measure for the service it provides!) Obviously, this communication medium is only one way to get the word out, but a low-power radio station fits the description of a mass-notification system and merits consideration, particularly on campuses and other locations.