Mobile apps facilitate campus safety

Mobile technology, like that used by University of New Haven students during the Dec. 3 lockdown triggered by a loose gunman on campus, and the Yale Alert system used during the Nov. 25 gun scare, were critical to ensuring safety on campus this year. They may also help prevent mass violence in the future.

Everbridge, a California-based communications software firm that caters to 30 million users worldwide, issued a press release last week to detail the response to the Dec. 3 emergency. University of New Haven administrators sent out alerts via the company’s mobile app to its 6,400 undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and staff, alerting them to the fact that there was a man armed with a long rifle on campus.

As police from the West Haven and New Haven police departments closed in on a suspect, 22-year-old William Dong, students were kept informed through emails, text and phone messages pushed through by UNH administrators using the app that included the location and race of the gunman.

“The mobile technology allowed University of New Haven to respond to the threat immediately, sending an alert to the entire campus community in seconds,” Everbridge’s release read.

As police officers searched all 32 buildings on campus for harmful devices or substances, Everbridge helped UNH send alerts every 45 minutes — resulting in a total of seven over the six-hour period that the school was in lockdown. Everbridge has a comprehensive notification system, offering more than 30 contact paths that can be designated by incident type or by the severity of the emergency.

Yale administrators and police employ a similar notification system, but it was created by the NTI Group, not Everbridge. The system sends emails, text and voice messages in cases of emergency. For the Nov. 25 lockdown on campus, the Yale Alert System mandated a campus-wide lockdown via email, phone call and text messages to students, faculty and staff.

Ronald Quagliani, the Associate Vice President of Public Safety & Administrative Services at UNH, said there is a strong relationship between the universities in New Haven and their campus safety staff.

“Yale is really the benchmark that we look to follow,” he said. “We actually collaborate with them, other universities and municipalities regularly regarding emergency preparedness.”

Everbridge Chief Technology Officer Imad Mouline underscored that the application’s compatibility with enables users to send a message to multiple contacts in seconds to improve emergency response in situations like campus lockdowns. He added that one does not need a network connection to send messages.

Quagliani said he was off-campus when the first reports of the gunman broke. He cited his ability to remotely send out an emergency notification to the UNH community through Everbridge’s centralized system as essential to his ability to report information in a timely manner. Using the application on his smartphone, Quagliani was able to send email, text and voice messages, alerting UNH to the shelter-in-place.

Messages were also displayed on the school’s desktop computers and flatscreen TV monitors and audio broadcasts played over PA systems.

One of the major benefits of the Everbridge app, Quigliani said, is a feature that allows students to communicate with campus police and security officers also in the system.

This allows students with Everbridge’s app to inform those on the other end about developments as they happen — administrators can subsequently release updates, which Quigliani said are more reliable than information students get through social media channels.

Quigliani added that before UNH made the switch to Everbridge’s system four years ago, communication was far less efficient. During emergency situations, UNH used a character-limiting, text message-only system.

“We’d have to go and send out the email, then we’d have to go to the text messaging system, then we’d have to go to the telephone system,” Quagliani said, about the previous alert systems. “Time, in an emergency, is something that you don’t have. You want to make sure that the community is notified as quickly as possible.”

In 2012, Everbridge partnered with Connecticut state government to build emergency communication systems across the state’s various offices and municipalities.

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