Lessons Learned: How the COVID-19 Pandemic Affected Emergency Notification Systems

K-12 emergency notification systems

Campus Safety recently surveyed more than 300 safety professionals to see how emergency notification systems, procedures, and policies were affected by the pandemic. The key takeaways from the survey include: 

  • Over half of K-12 respondents said they would support state or federal regulation that requires mobile panic alert systems 
  • On a scale of 1 to 4 (with 4 being very important), having an end-to-end emergency management system was rated an average of 3.3 points and having campus-wide notifications was rated an average of 3.6 points 
  • Multiple respondents stated emergency preparedness, testing of the system, and conducting routine drills were more challenging or completely “took a back seat” during the pandemic 

The results, detailed in the 2021 Emergency Notification Deep Dive Survey report, and lessons learned from the pandemic are summarized below. 

Challenges Faced During the Pandemic 

Although 70% of K-12 respondents said they did not experience pandemic-related challenges with their emergency systems. those that did experience issues (18% of all respondents) mostly experienced delayed communication, challenges with communicating with off-campus individuals, and issues with the technology itself.  

For example, one respondent realized that their PA system cannot be heard in certain areas of their campus. In an emergency, people in those areas would not be notified quickly or properly. Another respondent stated it’s hard for some people to know the difference between a fire alarm and a security alarm, making it difficult for them to determine how to respond.

panic alert system that instantly sends situation-specific notifications to teachers, staff, and first responders—regardless of their location—can drastically improve emergency awareness as well as expedite response. Panic alerts systems are gaining traction across the country with legislation being passed in New Jersey,  and most recently Florida – known as Alyssa’s Law – requiring them in every classroom. In the survey, 54% of K-12 survey respondents said they would support this type of state or federal regulation requiring mobile panic alarms. Mobile panic alarms should be able to send alerts across text message, email, voice call, and push notification and should provide the type, location, and time of the incident and who initiated the emergency. The most powerful systems also enable everyone to stay in touch through real-time two-way messaging across all devices. 

“One of the things that we found in previous incidents is that our principals had to contact multiple people and departments to communicate what is happening. These multiple phone calls can lend itself to miscommunication or even lack of communication. With Raptor Alert, we have the group chat feature so the principal can easily keep everyone updated.”    
– Lisa Moya, Assistant Superintendent, Bay City Independent School District (TX)
 

Changes Implemented Due to the Pandemic 

Some changes respondents shared as a result of the pandemic include using the emergency notification system to alert the campus of a positive COVID-19 case and implementing visitor management systems for COVID-19 health screenings 

Multiple respondents commented that their emergency preparedness, testing of the system, and conducting routine drills were more challenging—or completely “took a back seat”—during the pandemic. Being prepared for any emergency is always crucial, but it’s even more important now as students return to the classroom.  

In a recent webinar with Dr. Jaclyn Schildkraut, one of the nation’s leading mass and school shootings researchers, she told Raptor, “Unfortunately, as society is returning to normal both within and out of schools…extreme mass violence is also returning. We have to be mindful of not only maintaining the integrity and that skill mastery that we’ve spent the time building [with drills], but also the reality that this [violence] could still happen in any one of our schools.” 

As schools reopen, leaders must re-prioritize K-12 school safety drills to ensure their school communities can confidently respond to any situation. As drills require robust planning and management, districts around the nation are turning to drill management software that makes scheduling, conducting, and reporting on drills easier. 

Duval County Public Schools, for example, uses Raptor Emergency Management to ensure emergency preparedness and drill compliance. “After the [Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy], we had to manage fire drills, active shooter drills, and environmental safety reports for every school, every month,” says Duval County School Police Department Assistant Chief Wayne Clark. “In addition, we hold monthly behavior threat assessment team meetings at each school. We folded that process into the system as well, so that’s four mandated events per month per school managed through Raptor Drill Manager. That’s huge in helping us make sure we remain in compliance with state mandates.”  

Lessons Learned and the Importance of an End-to-End Emergency Management System 

When asked about their current emergency mass notification capabilities and future needs, respondents ranked having an end-to-end emergency management system an average of 3.3 out of 4 points (with 4 being very important). One respondent wrote, “It should never take a school shooter or a weapon on campus for students, teachers, staff, and/or communities to feel they can report and communicate areas of concern.” Another wrote, “It’s critical to have a reliable and robust system.” 

A robust end-to-end emergency management system, Raptor Emergency Management gives districts the tools to prepare for, respond to, and recover from any incident. Raptor helps schools manage drills, expedite emergency response with a mobile panic button, get help for localized incidents such as student fights, account for everyone on campus, and reunify students with their guardians. Raptor Emergency Management is also an allowable expense for each ESSER COVID-19 stimulus fund.

“You can’t put a value on the life of even one student or one staff member. Raptor gives us the peace of mind that we’re in a safe environment. By having Raptor…our students, staff, and community know that our district is bringing in the highest safeguards and best businesses and solutions that really value human life and safety.”   
– James Ricotta, Jr., Assistant Superintendent, Toms River Regional School District (NJ)

To learn more about Raptor, contact us to schedule a personalized demo. 

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