These days there’s a lot of attention on delivering content and services to the second, third, and now fourth screens - laptops, cell phones and tablets. One of these services is mass notification, or Emergency Alert System (EAS) messaging. While reaching all of these new screens provides extensive coverage, skipping the original first screen, the television, leaves a gaping hole in the plan.
The objective of a mass notification plan is to make sure an urgent message reaches as much of the campus population as possible in a moment’s notice. This requires understanding how segments of the population are engaged throughout the day. During daytime hours, when the community is generally mobile, these other screens are the ideal vehicle to target. However, there are times when large portions of the population close their laptops, silence their cell phones and disengage from the “connected” life in favor of a few hours of passive TV entertainment. Whether it be AMC showing the cult hit “Little Shop of Horrors” on a Saturday night, or the football team’s away game being televised on a Sunday afternoon, or even the President delivering the State of the Union address on a weeknight, the first screen dominates a significant portion of the community’s attention, providing the most effective means to communicate an urgent message.
Until recently, the leading mass notification service providers covered just about every conceivable touch point, except the on-campus cable TV system. This is largely due to the fact that many schools use local cable operators, most of whom are not equipped to accommodate anything other than providing their franchise programming lineup and national and regional EAS notifications. For the schools with their own custom cable TV system, EAS service to the TV has been available for several years, but, due to the complexities of television technology, has required a separate platform with separate login and separate message origination. While many of these schools have incorporated these systems, overall adoption is still low. However, this may be about to change.
In 2011, the FCC mandated that commercial television program carriers adopt a messaging standard known as CAP (Common Alerting Protocol) in order to facilitate federal emergency notification nationwide. While schools operating their own cable TV system do not fall under the FCC mandate, CAP offers them the ability to enhance their EAS capabilities by integrating cable TV into mass notification platforms. As an example, Campus Televideo, a national provider of custom cable TV solutions for universities, completed a successful beta test with Misericordia University in 2012 that integrated the cable TV EAS system into their e2Campus service. This enabled their safety administrator to use a single point of message origination eliminating the delays, complications, and potential inconsistencies associated with managing separate EAS platforms and processes. This successful test has since drawn interest from other universities, resulting in plans for future deployment of CAP Integration with other major mass notification providers.
As technology evolves, it is important for college campuses to adapt their emergency communication plans to ensure they are reaching as much of their population as possible, using an efficient system that delivers a consistent message quickly. While new devices present new opportunities, advances may also present opportunities to improve upon earlier technologies like EAS to the TV.
Brian Benz is CEO of Campus Televidio.