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Best Test Practices for Emergency Notification Still in Flux

Nearly a fifth of universities and colleges don't bother testing their emergency notification systems, and for half of that group, the reason is because they haven't had a chance to put a plan together to do it. That's one result that comes out of a customer survey done by Omnilert, which sells e2Campus, an alert system for the education segment.

The company sent out a survey to its clients to ask about basic notification service testing practices. The results reported come from the first 100 institutions that responded.

The majority of respondents (82 percent) test their systems regularly. Testing happens once per semester for 44 percent and once per month for 14 percent. Another 16 percent have a plan in place for testing, but do so "as needed," rather than on a schedule.

The testing process consists of a full test--both SMS and e-mail messages to all users--for 62 percent of respondents. A tiny subset of that group--eight percent--perform additional testing at other times during the year, but send messages to a limited testing group instead.

What defines success? That varies widely. Some campus representatives indicated they believe that a successful send is the goal. However, that doesn't measure whether recipients actually received or opened the test message. Other schools follow up with a questionnaire or mass e-mail requesting that the "failed" users modify their account settings or contact a support department for assistance.

"Too many 'full-tests' could lead people to ignore real threats or view your test alerts as spam and unsubscribe altogether," said Ara Bagdasarian, Ominlert CEO. "It's important to balance the benefit of your system tests versus the possible backlash. But keep in mind; it's not just about testing the [emergency notification] service. It's also about testing your own infrastructure, your emergency response plan and policy, as well as managing your staff's and students' expectations of your public safety efforts."

The company advised testers to look for trends in their results. "If the same mobile carrier always seems to reject texts, it may indicate a problem in the school's area that can be addressed. If a large number of e-mails on the school's domain show up as rejected, the school may need to double-check their local firewall or spam filter. If a large number of voice calls show up as 'busy,' the school may be overwhelming their local phone lines," the company said in a statement.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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