Today’s college officials face challenges that that previous generations of education professionals never had to deal with, starting with the Internet.
Though advances in digital technology have generally been a good thing as far as program delivery and creating more interactive multimedia classroom experiences, they have also created more potential for harm, or at least new distractions for instructors and students.
At the same time, interest in school security has also risen, partly due to increases in violence at secondary schools and colleges. Though shootings get headlines and cause high levels of fear, other crimes can take place too, including assaults with other weapons.
Because of a push to keep students safer, educators and security staff continue to search for new methods to alert students during a crisis – it doesn’t have to be violence, but any occasion when information needs to be delivered in a hurry. Perhaps it could be a natural disaster or even a serious traffic accident or weather situation that could impact traffic in and out of campus.
One solution that has gained popularity is texting, when school officials can send instructions to students and faculty in the event of a safety situation.
Here’s why it should be added to a college’s security plan.
- Students are more likely to see a text first.
Emergency warnings in the past have included mass emails or automated phone calls. But these may not be able to be seen as quickly as a text – sometimes emails or voice messages aren’t checked for hours or days while a text can be seen in minutes. Since more students are using mobile devices, especially for texting, it’s likely that they will hear and see an immediate message, or at least someone near them will.
- It’s a faster delivery method.
Depending on your particular texting service, thousands of one-to-many texts can be sent a matter of minutes. In comparison, thousands of mass emails must be sent in small bursts over hours to avoid spam detectors. Texts are also universal – the same message can be seen on everyone’s phone.
- Brief is better.
In emergency situations, school officials may just send out short details and quick instructions, with the expectation that more info will be shared later. “Active shooter on campus, seek shelter.” “Tornado coming, stay indoors, will text all-clear later.”
- No reply needed.
Sending one-to-one texts can create opportunities for a conversation, but one-to-many texts aren’t intended for interaction, only instructions. Officials sending texts may not have time or interest to answer the same question multiple times, so it’s easier just to send an identical message out to everyone.
- Different databases can be managed easily.
A college may have multiple ‘text’ lists, such as students on different campuses, or even local media. Plus it may have an ‘everyone’ list. Most texting programs make it easy to specify which database when creating a message. This can make sure the correct students and staff receive the message.
Secondary schools like middle schools and elementary schools will likely require different texting policies than colleges. Younger students may not even own mobile phones, or if they do have them, they may not be permitted in the classroom.
In this case, school alerts should be sent to faculty/staff and perhaps a separate database for parents. These also can give quick, direct information with the promise of more details to come. “School in lockdown. Keep students calm and in classrooms.” “Fire in gym, please evacuate to field.”
Leaders also should keep in mind that every school’s texting plan should be customized based on local resources and the local community.
Overall, it’s critical that a school gets the word out as much as possible prior to launching a texting service to make sure many as many people sign up. Schools also should consider sending out several types of warnings, not just texts, in case a student may not have their phone on or even with them on any given day.