I recently asked an emergency manager I know at a large midwestern university about how she made the judgment call on late night alerting for Clery Warnings. Her comment was "well, I get complaints if I do send the message and complaints if I don't send the message. It seems obvious that since I can't keep everyone happy, I should err on the side of sending the message."
It's a common dilemma, particularly with regard to messages such as Clery warnings where the threat may or may not be universal around the campus community but our institutions are required to send the message.
The Chronicle of Higher Education's recent piece called "Too Many Campus Alerts" on overuse of emergency notification focuses on concerns and complaints about 'message fatigue', the concern that too much messaging introduces something like a "cry wolf" effect with campus notifications. The fact is, on every campus, a large percentage of mass notifications come down to judgment calls where it will often seem most prudent to send rather than not send.
I work for a mass notification vendor and in the course of my work get a lot of messages myself. Personally, I've never really found it all that big a deal to just browse past a message that's not relevant to me, but clearly some take umbrage. Is it that college age humans just feel invulnerable, so it becomes fashionable, almost hipster, to sneer when my university tells me about a potential threat to public safety? It's not that hard to read and remove a message when it's not immediately relevant – especially when it may have lifesaving potential for others on campus.
Most campus public safety officials I've met seem genuinely concerned both with "actual" safety issues on campus and are committed to the need for greater transparency that is, we should remember, the reason behind directives for Clery Warning messages. There are many complexities to balance here....the need for openness, the need to keep students, staff and faculty feeling both protected and secure, and the fundamental need to make judgement calls quickly and effectively.
There are certainly best practices such as saving the most urgent channels for the most urgent messages via a prioritization policy thought out well in advance as part of routine emergency and public safety planning. And let's also face the facts: it is probably unreasonable to expect that every member of a large campus community will put the same value on our safety information.
But I also think that we need to remind the campus every now and then that our mass notifications are a core safety hygiene, and just as we may not always find taking our vitamins or brushing teeth convenient, in the long view these are the rudiments of good health and worth the effort.
Additional Article Link: The University of North Carolina Daily Tar Heel provided some additional local commentary on the Chronicle article. Tat'yana Berdan covers the story in UNC students weigh in on Alert Carolina.
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