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Hazards_Summit2008: Innovations

After focusing on challenges for much of the early afternoon, the focus has shifted at the EDUCAUSE Summit from identifying issues to sharing solutions.  Participants have offered innovations from their own campuses, most focusing on emergency notification  and communication systems (sirens, text messaging, digital signage) or campus monitoring. There are examples of data protection and coalition building (particularly in breaking down communication walls between campuses and emergency responders), and a few that focus on disaster education. Very few, however, address one of the primary issues that the group identified in earlier sessions: that students, faculty and staff aren’t creating a culture built around safety and preparedness, with an emphasis on training and prevention.

From the initial list of innovations – more than 40 total – the group selected six innovations for a “lightning round” of presentations. (A complete list will be compiled from the Summit and available at a later date.) These “solutions in focus” are a snapshot of the ideas presented:

  • The University of Maryland puts safety in the spotlight each fall with an Emergency Preparedness Week. The word gets spread through social networking sites, newspaper articles, calendar postings, public service announcements at games, and advertisements at campus eateries. Throughout the week, students and faculty learn how to sign up for emergency alert text messages at Internet kiosks and where to go for information through informational videos. (Which are available on kiosks or sites like YouTube.) They can also visit a Facebook page for the topic and take home “pocket guides” to emergency procedures. Campus officials make an effort to visit as many campus meetings as possible or to circulate letters that help define important emergency terms or explain procedures.
  • After a FEMA simulated plane crash three years ago, Texas A&M University received criticism that the four jurisdictions at play weren’t working together. Each group – including the university, the town of Bryan, the town of College Station, and Brazos County – decided to forego their individual emergency operations centers in favor of a single, join EOC. Each group committed two people to work full-time in private offices at the facility. During emergencies, the EOC is activated.
  • The University of Iowa is experimenting with Facebook and MySpace, two social networking sites popular with students. Hoping to bring the message “where the students are” and to preempt any unofficial information on the sites in the event of an emergency, they created HawkAlert pages within the sites. When launched, students will be able to receive emergency notifications on their Facebook and MySpace pages.
  • Cornell University shared how they’re using The University of California-Berkeley Continuity Planning Tool to create and share emergency plans on campus. The tool, according to the Berkley Web site, “was developed.. to organize disaster preparedness for the 300+ academic departments, research units, public service units, and support units [on campus].” Cornell has personalized the tool to incorporate FEMA and university emergency plans, authorization levels, and CGI. Using the Berkeley tool – which is in the public domain – allowed them to get the tool up and running within hours while leaving room to customize to their own needs.
  • A GIS project in the Cornell University planning office is beginning to show possibilities for campus safety planning. A GIS tool, originally conceived to look at accessibility issues from a birds-eye view on campus – is now being used by campus police, allowing offers to take a large view of campus or drill down to sidewalk level. The system could help officers plot crime locations, create maps of traffic areas or overlay walking paths onto areas of increased crime. They system could have applicability for other groups, such as environmental health, individual departments and Facilities.   
  • Instead of relying on individual platforms to deploy emergency notification messages across different channels, Brigham Young University and Virginia Tech have created a unified console to send out broadcast messages. An individual user can access the simple interface, type in a message or record an audio message, and then select the channels over which to broadcast it. (Text message, email, etc.) If an audio recording is not entered, the system will automatically convert text to voice. For the university, the console was motivated by practicality and speed.