Notre Dame de Namur University was founded over 160 years ago, and is the fifth oldest college in California. The 50-acre campus is located in the City of Belmont, California, just south of San Francisco. The Rapid Notify system enables the university to contact 2,000 students, faculty and community members.
The University is one of many educational institutions in Belmont that participate in the Belmont Police Department “Safe Schools” program which provides assistance for access to the Rapid Notify system.
NDNU students have their cell phone numbers automatically enrolled into the system upon admission and are added to the Rapid Notify contact list. Students have received alerts for situations such as gas leaks, power interruptions, and other potential emergencies. The University also conducts a system test and administrator training each semester.
“Rapid Notify is the backbone of our emergency management communication,” said Kyle Pretsch, Assistant Director Student Life and Leadership. “The Rapid Notify system is flexible and versatile for many uses. It’s quick and easy when you need it most. Rapid Notify is simply terrific.”
The first time the university needed to use the system it had not even been tested and there were not yet protocols in place. With the help of the 24-hour Customer Support team at Rapid Notify, a successful text message alert was sent warning of an incident on campus.
“It is amazing to be able to reach a live customer support person at 3 a.m. when you need help to get your message out,” added Pretsch. “Knowing someone will pick up the phone is a huge relief.”
NDNU tests the Rapid Notify system each semester, often by aligning the test with special events to send notifications that are informational while simultaneously testing message deliverability. A library of pre-approved text messages for all types of emergency situations has been created to reduce alerting time for future emergency situations.
This month we are pleased to shine a spotlight on the City of San Mateo, a valued customer of Rapid Notify for many years. The City of San Mateo is a well-established community located in the San Francisco Bay Area with a population of approximately 100,000.
Over the years, San Mateo has issued numerous Rapid Notify alerts to protect and inform its citizens. Situational uses have varied from traffic advisories to mountain lion spotting to armed suspects.
“Our patrol officers know to ask for a Rapid Notify message in certain situations, “ said Sgt. Dave Norris of the San Mateo Police Department. “They work with our dispatchers to make sure the public is alerted quickly, with pertinent details and necessary actions.”
An important key to the success of an alert is not only the speed at which it is delivered, but the quality and clarity of the message it delivers. The San Mateo PD has carefully crafted a multiple-choice and fill-in-the-blank script to generate message content on the fly as each situation presents itself. Dispatchers can plug in relevant details such as event location and appropriate actions for citizens to take. The result is a pre-approved, recording-ready message script.
San Mateo has generously provided an example of their script outline below.
The following is a PUBLIC SAFETY ALERT from the San Mateo Police Department. The San Mateo Police Department is actively investigating an incident involving _______. In the area of ________ . Residents in this area should_______ (Stay inside, secure all doors and windows, etc.) and wait for an “all clear” message when the immediate threat has been resolved. The Police Department will issue a follow-up message and provide any available further details when the incident has been resolved. During the duration of this incident, please avoid calling the Police Department via 911 for any issue other than an actual emergency. Thank you for your assistance.
“We have been very impressed with the capabilities of the Rapid Notify system,” added Norris. “Sending alerts to specific map locations is a must.”
The City of San Mateo is not only using the GIS Mapping option, but the community self-registration portal as well. With as many as 25% of households using cell phones instead of landline phones, the need for self-registration is greater than ever. Accurate contact information is an essential part of municipal and government public safety programs.
The self-registration portal is specifically designed to help organizations improve the quality and quantity of information used for mass notification. In addition, the portal ensures that mass communications are privacy compliant by offering opt-in and opt-out capability. Self-registrants complete a short online form with their contact information, indicate their preferences for notification, and select a secure login enabling them to return and update contact details as often as needed. The portal quickly plots address locations on a map and presents them to the registrant to verify or reposition the pin to the exact location of the address. Confirmed addresses are geo-coded into the Rapid Notify mapping system, which enables organizations to target emergency and mass communications to individuals in specific physical locations.
“We are proud to provide a communication system that helps to ensure the safety and security of the citizens of San Mateo,” said Steve Sipe, president of Rapid Notify. “Rapid Notify has been the provider of choice for municipalities across North America for more than twenty-five years.”
Warren County is located in northwestern New Jersey and encompasses 22 municipalities consisting of townships, cities, towns, boroughs and villages in a 363 square mile area. The Rapid Notify system enables the Warren County Office of Emergency Management to contact over 110,000 area residents in the event of an extreme emergency situation.
Warren County teamed up with the local Merrill Creek Dam to purchase the system with funding in part provided by Federal Homeland Security grants.
The County primarily uses the Rapid Notify system in situations such as heavy snowstorms and flooding. The system proved to be valuable in 2011 with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.
Through the newly-integrated online self-registration portal, Warren County residents can now sign up to receive emergency alert notifications on their cell phone as well as unlisted landline number. Self-registrant addresses are periodically geo-coded into the Rapid Notify mapping system, enabling more precise alert targeting based on proximity to an emergency situation.
“I am very happy with the Rapid Notify system,” said Bill Hunt, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator for Warren County Office of Emergency Management. “You push the button and it’s done. The speed of the system is amazing.”
In an emergency situation, the OEM coordinator for each municipality is directed to specify the message content and the area to be alerted and forward the information to the county office, which is then sent out on their behalf.
Now the County is encouraging its municipalities to establish sub-accounts to enable communications on a more relevant local level. Allamuchy Township has just signed on and will soon have the ability to load its own contact lists and messages.
The County holds the master account, giving “parent” oversight control of all contact lists and alert messages, while giving municipal sub-accounts “child” level control over their own individual contact lists. The “child” sub-account contacts can be alerted separately by local officials or all together by the master county account. This helps to unify all communication channels into a single system to simplify activation, ensure message consistency and reduce alerting time.