Communication Systems and Response Plans

Terrorist attacks, as well as natural disasters such as floods, earthquakes, fires, and tornadoes, can strike a campus with little or no warning. Some natural disasters, such as a tornado or winter storm, could cause widespread damage to facilities and infrastructures, resulting in a power outage, disrupted telephone service (landline and/or wireless), and disrupted Internet service.

Additionally, college and universities are resources for their communities. Many campuses are used as shelters, command centers, or meeting places in times of crisis. A reliable telecommunications facility is a key component to mitigate the effects of crises. An effective and reliable emergency mass notification system must be at the heart of a college and university telecommunications facility. Several types of notification systems for “open” university environments were reviewed. It is the belief of the Task Force that the proposed recommendations will aid in improving the safety of the Missouri State University campus and its occupants in the event of an emergency. In broad terms, the Task Force is recommending a “layered” approach to campus emergency communication. A “layered” approach utilizes many different communication mediums.

Key Criteria

When evaluating emergency notification systems, it is important to consider who might need to be notified:
  • All members of the campus community
  • All members of the campus community in a particular geographic portion of campus
  • Those with responsibility for particular facilities or buildings
  • Executive leadership
  • Emergency response teams
  • Communications staff
  • Students/Employees who may be at home or in transit
  • Parents, spouses, and others
  • Guests on campus
  • Users with special needs
Potential challenges that may occur during an emergency include:
  • Trying to communicate with mobile, diverse, dispersed, and multiple constituencies
  • Communicating with many at once, and quickly
  • Difficulty of use because of a lack of system familiarity
  • Establishing policies/procedures to be used during an emergency
  • Institutional contact database to be used during an emergency
  • Media overload
  • Conciseness of message delivery
  • Costs
Spectrum of solutions available:
  • Sirens/loudspeakers
  • Phones (landline and cell)
  • Text messaging
  • E-mail
  • Web
  • RSS feeds (makes it possible to keep up with web sites in an automated fashion)
  • Pop-ups (controlled feed from a host service which provides on-demand information to specific network-connected computers)
  • Video/CATV
  • Instant messaging
  • AM/FM radio
  • Two-way radio
  • Emergency/weather band radio
  • Fire panel alarms with voice enunciation
  • Public address systems
  • Digital signage
  • Word of mouth
Why a layered approach is necessary:
  • Potential media failures/bottlenecks
  • Diversity of individual communication capabilities
  • Diversity of individual preference
  • Diversity of emergency situations
  • Diversity of contact locations
  • Individual disabilities

Existing Practices

Currently, Missouri State University uses the following resources for emergency notification:
  • Telephone and voice messaging system
  • Cell phones
  • 800 MHz radio system (among emergency responders and staff)
  • E-mail
  • Web page
  • Siren
The University does not have a campus-wide intercom or PA system in place that could alert all students, faculty, and staff of an emergency situation and notify them of specific actions to take. Clearly, systems and procedures are needed to rapidly pass critical information to multiple constituencies in emergency situations.
  1. Conduct a self-assessment study of the buildings utilized for emergency communication to make sure they are equipped with appropriate back-up power equipment. Blair House, Sunvilla Tower, and Glass Hall all have generators. The Alumni Center has a very small generator to keep the elevator operational. Telecommunications Services needs to connect the telephone system to the generator. Since the Alumni Center is currently designated as one of the emergency operations centers for the campus, an additional analysis needs to be conducted in order to determine an estimated cost to install a larger generator and UPS equipment to serve that facility. Two of the buildings used for emergency communication do not have appropriate back-up power equipment. Cheek Hall needs a generator and 636 E. Elm (Safety and Transportation) needs a generator and UPS equipment.
    Cheek Hall generator
    636 E. Elm generator
    Alumni Center

    Timeframe—ASAP for Cheek Hall and 636 E. Elm; with the next twenty-four months for the Alumni Center.

  2. Increase utilization of the 800 MHz radio system. Building coordinators should be equipped with a radio programmed to the University’s emergency channel. The University currently has a limited number of radios that also interface with the Greene County 800 MHz radio system. Also, additional radios should be requested for key administrators with executive roles in handling emergency communications situations. In addition, backup controller cards will be needed for the radio system.
    Radios for building coordinators
    Radios for key administrators
    Interface to Greene County
    Controller cards


  3. Because of the prevalence of cell phones owned and used by University students, faculty, and staff, it is recommended that a host-based text messaging service by utilized. Minimal resources would need to be provided by the University. The service would be a permission-based system with validation services; the sign-up Web site would be maintained by an outside vendor. The tentative cost for this solution is $.90 per user per year for unlimited messages. Another option is to charge on a per-message basis. The University would encourage students, faculty, and staff to sign up for the service on a voluntary basis.

    Cost $13,500

  4. Radios with FM receivers are recommended for all buildings which do not have them. It is recommended that there be two radios per building, with one to be located in the Building Coordinator’s office.

    Cost $5,500

  5. The University of Missouri recently completed a Request for Proposal (RFP) for Mass Notification Software Services. The contract is expected to be awarded shortly. Language of the RFP would permit any Missouri public college or university to utilize the contract. Once the contract is awarded, the University should review it and determine whether it would be appropriate for the Missouri State campus. This mass notification service would have the ability to coordinate simultaneous notifications through landline telephones, wireless phones and smart phones, desktop email, numeric and alphanumeric pagers, instant messaging-capable devices, and telecommunication devices for the deaf (TDD/TTY). Participation would be voluntary.

    Cost $20,000 to $40,000 annually
    Timeframe—within one year

  6. Telephone, voice messaging, and e-mail systems should continue to be used for emergency notification. One possibility may be to install telephones in all classrooms and laboratories. The Task Force believes there may be other alternatives as well to equip classrooms with notification capabilities and believes further analysis should be done prior to making a commitment to install the additional lines.
    Hot-line Telephone
    Circuit packs

    Timeframe---dependent on further study, but within the next year

  7. There are products on the market using convergent technologies that warrant further analysis. These products can interconnect various devices and can simultaneously cross-connect different radio networks, connect radio networks to telephone or SATCOM systems, or network Voice Over Internet Protocol (VoIP) systems. The systems are scalable, have different methods of operation for system redundancy, and are neither computer nor network dependent for their operation. Missouri State has a robust network infrastructure and should explore how these emerging technologies could interface with our network, providing two-way communication to all facilities on campus as well as off-campus agencies such as the Springfield Police Department.

    Estimated cost is unknown
    Timeframe—within the next several months, continue to explore potential options and determine whether functionality is mandatory and how the products interface with the University’s existing infrastructure. Implementation, if affordable, would possibly take two to three years.

  8. Building Coordinators and runners should be utilized to help notify the campus of emergency situations. Appropriate training courses would need to be conducted.
  9. Increase utilization of IP-based panic devices in designated locations throughout the Missouri State University campus. The cost listed below would be reduced once control units have been installed in all buildings.

    Estimated Cost $2,000 per location
    Timeframe—within the next year

  10. Establish a hosted web site in case the University’s web site cannot be accessed.

    Cost $100 annually
    Timeframe—within the next year

  11. Update policies, plans, and notification lists and implement processes to keep these current. Post emergency evacuation and response plan information in building entrances and in laboratories and classrooms. This would include internal signage identifying areas of rescue assistance.

    Cost Minimal