When Scott G. Burnotes arrived at the University of Miami, he found multiple, separate systems for emergency notifications. A third-party vendor handled texting, emailing, and phone calls; sirens had been set up around campus; and some web-based notifications were utilized.
“Their focus was on continuing to build a multimodal method of communication for all types of emergencies,” recalls Burnotes, Miami’s director of emergency management.
Seeking greater flexibility to send targeted messages to different groups, Burnotes did an immediate assessment and inventory and discovered that there were some resources on campus not being used to their fullest capabilities. Combining that with the numerous messaging platforms—an estimated seven or eight—that were used to communicate emergency information, Burnotes concluded that a more unified approach was needed.
“We did two things,” he shares. The first involved taking advantage of buildings’ fire-alarm capability and adding the ability to utilize that for things other than fire emergencies. The second action, he says, was to “network all different systems we have into a single point of activity where we can push one button and have the prepared messages for all the different systems go up—fire alarms, text messages, the website, hotline, sirens, all automatically.”
Now committed to unified security, the university considers whether any new purchases can be used for emergency purposes before deciding to invest in them, Burnotes says. For example, in switching cable television providers, Miami officials first ensured that they could commandeer video monitors across campus and switch from the cable feed to internal messaging to communicate in case of a disaster.
“It’s another method, and it gives us over 3,000 TV screens to communicate directly,” he says.
Burnotes and his team are currently implementing the first phase of Miami’s unified security initiative, the single-source communications outlet and the conversion of fire panels to handle multiple types of situations.
He advises other schools to give themselves sufficient time to research both their own existing systems and third-party integrators to ensure that funds are spent wisely and systems chosen smartly.
“We learned that, for a lot of our systems, when we activated them directly, we had options of A, B, and C,” he says. “If you’re integrating with a third party, you might only get A and B.”
Effective communication must be timely, according to Burnotes. Unified security helps to achieve that goal.
“Seconds count in these critical types of emergencies,” he says. “We want to be able to get it out once we’re able to confirm that it’s happening.”