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Clery Act: Improving emergency notification processes

Failure to comply with The Clery Act could result in fines upwards of $2.4 million dollars. It was recently amended to include regulations around emergency responses, emergency notifications, timely warnings, missing student notifications, fire safety reporting, and hate crime reporting, and a new handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting was released by the Department of Education in 2016. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge, MA, Dr. Steve Goldman and Suzanne Blake have pioneered the university’s compliance with the Clery Act, and have paid special attention to their emergency notification plan because of the complexities within the Act’s amendments Dr. Steve Goldman is a senior lecturer at MIT and a partner with Steve Goldman Associates. He’s an internationally recognized expert and consultant in business continuity, crisis management, disaster recovery, and crisis communication. Suzanne Blake is the manager of MIT’s Office of Emergency Management and Business Continuity and has over 15 years of experience in higher education, emergency management, and specializes in building emergency notification or web. Blake and Goldman evaluate their emergency notification policies and procedures using three categories: The specific language of the Clery Act, The Emergency Management Accreditation Program Standards (EMAP), and exemplary practices. The actual language of The Clery Act is very specific, and can be confusing because it has been amended so many times. At MIT, Blake takes specific phrases from the law and uses them as a checklist for her procedures to see what is addressed, partially addressed, and not addressed. “If you can look at your program and see what you have and what you need to work on, that’s a great start because you’re actually referring to the language of the law,” she states. There is little room for error when you’re comparing your program to the exact language of the law. It’s also beneficial to refer to the EMAP standards when evaluating and creating your emergency notification process. “The EMAP standards are a very good accreditation program and they outline all of the pieces you need in an emergency management program including the communications and warning portion,” says Blake. The standards look at how to initiate, receive, and relay warnings, how to disseminate emergency alerts to the public, and the delineation of the decision-making process. It’s designed for specific incidents and should be updated on a regular basis. “Your system should provide you a means to communicate very reliably, which means that you need to have redundancy in place and alternate means to notify. The systems are tested on a regular basis.” Having clear and concise messaging both in audible and written communications is important because they need to contain appropriate and useful community information. Pre-scripted messages can be programmed to speed up this process and decrease response time during a real emergency event. Reliability, redundancy, and regular testing are all crucial in deploying a successful emergency notification process, but having a cross-departmental, integrated plan is the key to its success. A clear and streamlined decision making process that is put in place before an emergency occurs will ensure that notifications can get out when you need them too. Full monthly drills of these procedures allow cross-departmental stakeholders to test the system and buy into it, as well as practice in case a real emergency situation occurs. “You don’t want people learning how to do this when the real events occur. Do the training and get the tools and technologies in there,” Goldman says. Your emergency notification system is not going to work at all if your community has no idea what it is, they don’t know what to do when they get a notice, or they don’t know when they’re going to get a notice. To learn more about the emergency notification procedures at MIT, you can listen to our free, on-demand webinar now. Goldman and Blake speak about their road to compliance, and share an example of a real-life emergency situation where they deployed their emergency notification process. To find out if you are Clery Act compliant, be sure to download our Five Steps to Compliance whitepaper!

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