Using Technology to Keep College Campuses Safe

  • October 19, 2017
Technology For Campus Safety

Colleges and universities have been looking to technology to help support student success, recruitment, campus operations, student communications and more over the past decade. It’s no wonder that when it comes to keeping campuses safe, the latest technologies can also help ensure the safety of students.

Recent tragedies across the country have put emergency plans at the top of people’s minds across the United States. When campuses are affected by crisis situations like natural disasters, campus violence, sexual harassment or even power outages, it is vital to have the resources available to communicate with students, staff, and faculty, as well as to support them after the threat is no longer present.

The common thread among all of these helpful technologies is communication – technology is making it easier to communicate. Whether that communication is needed for an important message, to offer emotional support, or as a way to report crimes, technology is making communicating during a crisis more accessible to everyone.

Below, we outline 6 different types of technology or digital resources that are helping keep colleges and students safe during (and after) times of crisis.

 

Multi-Channel Emergency Notification Systems

Studies have shown that text messaging is one of the best ways to communicate with the current generation of students. With a 98% open rate, text messages have a much higher probability of reaching students compared to email.

A recent school safety survey conducted at VCU indicated that 84% of respondents said text alerts increased their feeling of safety. Mass text messaging software, like Omnilert’s e2Campus, is helping colleges and universities communicate with students, staff, and faculty during potential or actual crisis situations. This type of communication not only increases the campus community’s knowledge of the situation, but it can also reduce the number of calls from parents, friends, and concerned citizens through proactive communication when an emergency occurs.

But is texting enough? Other software companies, like Singlewire, are taking it a step further and integrating 911 call monitoring, designated groups that receive notifications, and sending notifications to phones, loud speakers on campus, and computers. Campuses are finding that by utilizing multiple communication sources, their ability to reach more students, staff, faculty, and parents is much greater.

 

Anonymous Alert Apps

 Apps like the “Anonymous Alert App” were originally created as an anti-bullying app, but higher ed campuses have begun to see additional use for this type of anonymous reporting system: sexual harassment on college campuses.

Callisto, which has been adopted by a number of colleges including Pomona College, University of San Francisco, and Stanford (piloting in May), offers students a way to anonymously report sexual assaults. Additionally, they offer the ability to reveal the report to administrators if it matches another perpetrator in the database.

An estimated one in five women is sexually assaulted in college, yet only a fraction of survivors come forward. By giving survivors a way to report anonymously, colleges hope to increase their ability to combat sexual assault against on campus.

 

Disaster Readiness Online Orientations

As online orientation programs continue to grow in popularity to due their effectiveness, ability to reach a large population, and ease of access, more universities and schools are creating orientations for various important topics, such as Sexual Harassment or Disaster Readiness.

Creating a mandatory online disaster readiness orientation can ensure that students understand and review important details in the case of an emergency. Many schools and universities post their disaster plans on their websites – but it’s rare that a student will stumble upon that. By offering either a stand-alone orientation on disaster readiness, or even a supplementary section to your existing orientation, you can make sure that your message is heard.

Red Cross and Ready.gov offer helpful resources that can be included in your orientation content or can be listed as a reference in your orientation materials.

 

Social media platforms

Social media platforms have quickly become to go-to source for communicating news and important updates during crisis periods. During Hurricane Sandy, FEMA reported that users sent more than 20 million Sandy-related tweets. After the Boston Marathon bombings, The Pew Research Center reported that one quarter of Americans looked to Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites for information.

For universities and colleges, it’s crucial that a communication disaster plan is outlined and documented so that important messages and communications reach students. A “Disaster Plan for Social Media”, should outline what should be done before a disaster, during, and after, like Drexel’s plan. The plan should include which specific platforms to utilize (Twitter, Facebook, etc.), which account should act as the primary source of information, and how to cross-promote between accounts.

 

Taking therapy online

Therapy and counseling services play a big part in caring for and supporting students after disasters or crisis situations. When counseling services are in high demand, it can be difficult for colleges to scale their services to a larger amount of students. In fact, a recent study by STAT found that students often have to wait weeks before their symptoms are even reviewed – and that is during non-crisis situations. Another report done by the Center for Collegiate Mental Health (CCMH) indicated that the number of students seeking campus counseling services is growing over 5 times faster than enrollment.

As schools struggle to meet mental health demands – especially after crisis periods – digital tools are being looked for solutions. While technology can’t replace counseling for those with a serious mental illness, it can help expand the reach to students that might not have the courage or availability to see a therapist in person.

Universities have begun testing out programs like the Talkspace Therapy app, which gives members access to licensed therapists 24/7 through texting. Some colleges, like BYU, have implemented computer programs that offer self-guided exercise like journaling about stressful events, utilizing the software Silvercloud. The associate director of BYU’s counseling center noted that these types of services seem to work better for students that are already motivated to seek mental health services, but are afraid of face-to-face meetings or don’t have time to meet in person.

 

Database for Support Groups and Causes

After disasters or tragedies, support groups and fundraisers can be extremely powerful in supporting students not only financially, but also emotionally. University of Houston used its Events and Organization database created by Campus Labs to allow students to search for organizations and events that were specific to Hurricane Harvey relief. By aggregating events and support groups all in one place, University of Houston made it easier for students to find the support needed.


By implementing new technologies and digital tactics into campus operations, colleges and universities continue to improve campus safety both during times of crisis and overall. As new software and apps continue to emerge, the variety and options available for the higher education industry will continue to grow. Colleges and universities can’t completely prevent crisis situations like natural disasters or campus crime, but they can continue to promote student safety through effective communication and a variety of support methods.