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2007 Campus Technology Innovators: Emergency Notification

2007 Campus Technology Innovators

Innovator: West Virginia University at Parkersburg

A commitment to integrated, campuswide, two-way paging and broadcast assures the university community that information will travel quickly to all

Right now, campuses around the nation are grappling with the need to develop an effective emergency communications and notification strategy, in order to intelligently manage problems or events that might require security, medical, or crisis assistance or intervention. West Virginia University at Parkersburg is one of them. What is different, however, is the reaction of administrators at the institution—decidedly not knee-jerk. In fact, some might even say the reaction has been rudimentary. But in a world where bells and whistles can sometimes sidestep the obvious, we applaud this campus's well-considered and thorough effort to create a baseline technology strategy and fulfill it appropriately, before moving on to "sexier" stuff.

In developing its comprehensive safety plan, administrators at Parkersburg (a commuter campus of 4,000 students) asked themselves how a school, building, or classroom would be able to alert those both immediately nearby and across the campus, should a crisis arise. How could they, for instance, warn individuals in one set of classrooms that a crisis was occurring in a classroom right next-door? (Such warning capability might have spared some victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, for example.) After careful consideration, administrators and technologists at Parkersburg identified the need for an emergency paging system with two-way communication in all of the university's classrooms and key administrative areas. The technology enhancement was considered a key component in the college's overall safety and crisis communications strategies.

Emergency Notification

West Virginia University
at Parkersburg skipped
the knee-jerk response
and went for solid,
baseline emergency
communications first.

Benefits. According to project lead and Facilities Director Dave White, the paging system combines two-way communication with widespread broadcast capabilities. "If there is an urgent situation, a paging switch can be activated on the wall box in the classroom or office. This gives an immediate connection to the switchboard operator, campus security, and other key staff," he explains. The location of the situation is also transmitted and appears on-screen for security personnel. Through two-way communication via paging phones and overhead broadcast speakers, the nature of the situation can be determined and an appropriate response routed immediately. If needed, a campuswide announcement also can be broadcast to communicate emergency instructions. The paging system has been designed to provide two-way communication between stations in classrooms and certain offices, and broadcast capability to selective signaling zones (all first-floor classrooms and all hallways, for instance) or the entire campus (outside speakers are located at all entrances).

The system, installed by ProComm Technologies, is a Bogen Multicom 2000 Administrative Communications System, which offers flexibility, capability for future expansion, and microprocessor control, and is fully field-programmable for versatility and dependability. It combines private telephone communication with a full-featured sound and program distribution system, including media control. It also provides master clock control and emergency call features including "911" emergency allcall for increased security and quick response. (Staff and enhanced staff stations can make emergency calls that can activate an emergency announce link if a call is unanswered.) A single microprocessor card controls overall system functions with two special menus, protected by a password setting the operating configuration. The setup menu sets the system day and time, stores time-signal events, page zone, and time data. The initialization menu sets the system features.

Parkersburg's setup also includes classroom talkback speakers, call buttons (Ortronics) and clocks, a Tripp Lite "smart" un-interruptible power supply (UPS) system, Belden cables, and Wiremold cable covers.

White says the technology not only enhances the safety of the campus, it also gives the university a competitive edge in student recruitment because today, many students and family members investigate college safety and security reports when deciding which institution to attend. A pleasant surprise was how quickly the system was installed, but he adds that an unforeseen glitch revolved around the room numbering: All rooms on the system must have an assigned four-digit number, so the campus classrooms and offices that traditionally had three digits had to include a zero beforehand. "Also, the call switches are occasionally mistaken for light switches," he confesses.

Next step: To install the system in the final two buildings, to complete the entire campus. Additional switches will be added in key locations where a crisis might occur, says White (for example, the offices of department chairs, where a volatile situation with a student or parent could occur).

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