Mobile Emergency Response App Keeps College Ready for Crisis

A mobile app for smartphones and tablets delivers step-by-step procedures for responding to incidents from hurricanes to on-campus shooters, serving as Cliffs Notes for Miami-Dade College faculty and staff facing crisis situations.

Anthony Bradley spends his days preparing for the worst-case scenarios that could occur on one of the seven campuses of Miami Dade College. Most of the school's 164,000 students -- and a large majority of its more than 3,000 employees -- spend their days thinking about anything but that.

As director of emergency preparedness, Bradley has conducted vulnerability assessments to determine the likelihood of various crisis situations and created detailed response plans for everything from fires and hurricanes to bomb threats and active shooters. Keeping students, faculty and staff informed of potential emergencies and disasters that they might encounter and what to do when they occur is a key ingredient of the program.

In the past, that would be accomplished through handouts, pocket brochures, and in-person briefings. But "handouts and brochures wind up in the trash or at home in a drawer," says Anthony, "and people forget the briefings over time."

But what they almost always carry with them is a smartphone or tablet.

Emergency Response Information on the Go

So last year, Bradley began testing mobile apps that could provide emergency response information on the go. In conjunction with his campus incident commanders (the administrative officers responsible for response activities on each campus), he selected the In Case of Crisis (ICOC) emergency management app for iPhone and Android platforms.

The app is free to anyone on campus and provides step-by-step guidance for a variety of scenarios, from finding a suspicious package to dealing with a pandemic outbreak. When an evacuation is necessary, for example, a student opens the ICOC app and presses the evacuation event. In addition to the basic details of when an evacuation is required, what the precautions are, and information on assisting individuals with disabilities, the guide provides a simple step-by-step checklist to follow:

It's all information that's available via a downloadable PDF, but it was unlikely that students and staff would have that download and readily available when needed.

"During an emergency situation, most people tend to panic and can put themselves at risk of further harm if they don't have a clear plan in mind or are instructed on what to do," says Bradley, who spent more than 25 years performing emergency management work in the military. "This gives them that piece of mind and keeps them informed of what to expect next." The checklists are accessible whether or not the phone is connected to the cellular or Wi-Fi network.

Emergency App for Students, Faculty and Crisis Management Teams

Rolled out just last month, Miami-Dade's emergency app has three versions -- one for students, one for faculty, and one for the crisis management team. The student version contains information on sexual assaults and studying abroad, for example. The faculty version has instructions for dealing with disruptive student behavior and workplace violence.

In a future update, the ICOC app will enable users to submit incident reports, which will take advantage of the GPS functionality of smart phones. If someone notices a potential problem or suspicious activity, they can report it to public safety within the app.

There was minimal overhead required to customize the app, says Bradley. They school pays an annual contract free, which he estimates is less costly than unlimited downloads and updates of emergency response brochures.

The biggest challenge has been marketing the app to students, faculty and staff so that they see the value in downloading it. "We're still using email and in-person briefings and taking every opportunity we can to get the word out that it's available," says Bradley. "But that's the story of my life as an emergency manager. It's something I think about because it's my job. For everyone else, it's something they don't think about until something happens."

And that's where the app will pay off. "It provides all personnel the 'Cliffs Notes' of our response information and procedures," Bradley says. "The app combines 200-plus pages of our comprehensive emergency management plan requirements and the emergency operations plan procedures into an easily assessable, useable, ready-to-go application available to you 24/7."

Stephanie Overby is regular contributor to CIO.com's IT Outsourcing section. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.

Read more about mobile apps in CIO's Mobile Apps Drilldown.

This story, "Mobile Emergency Response App Keeps College Ready for Crisis" was originally published by CIO .

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