The U.S. Department of Education yesterday published new federal regulations dealing with campus emergencies among other topics. The final regulations take effect on July 1, 2010 and implement laws enacted in 2008, including amendments to the Jeanne Clery Act adopted in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech and other campuses.
Section 668.46(e) of the regulations clarifies the difference between the existing timely warning requirement and the new requirement for an emergency notification policy. The regulations state that, While a timely warning must be issued in response to specific crimes, an emergency notification is required in the case of an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on campus.
The regulations distinguish between a timely warning notification and an emergency notification, which previously were often confused with each other. Campuses are not required to issue immediate (emergency) alerts if there is no immediate threat to the health or safety of students and employees. However, the institution must provide an adequate and timely follow up.
Section 668.46(g) of the regulations describes the elements an institution must establish and release in its annual security report:
– Procedures to immediately notify the campus community upon the confirmation of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat occurring on the campus.
This is largely a restatement of the Jeanne Clery Act, amendment of August 2008. However, the regulations do go into more details.
– A description of the process that (1) confirms that there is a significant emergency or dangerous situation, (2) determines the appropriate segment or segments of the campus community to receive a notification, (3) determines the content of the notification, and (4) initiates the notification system. (emphasis added)
Not only is an institution required to confirm that there is a significant event, decide on the content of the notification and execute it, but they also must define an appropriate segment or segments of the campus community to receive a notification.
The most obvious difference is that while the Clery Act establishes the obligation to notify the campus community, the final regulations clarify that appropriate segment or segments of campus community must be notified.
It would appear as if the segmentation of the campus population is dictated by the emergency event, and both demographic and geographic segmentation is possible. It seems appropriate to notify the entire community via SMS, email and other personal notification channels in case of a weather emergency or other global events where the same message can relay clear information to the entire population.
However, isolated incidents such as shooter on campus require geographic segmentation of the campus community. Conceivably, people in the same building with a shooter might be advised to lock the doors and stay hidden, while people outside the building would be advised to stay away.
This point is reinforced in the new 2010 edition of the NFPA 72 code, which states that two tiers of communications are ideal for effective coverage. As an example, Tier 1 of In-Building Mass Notification Systems, or the immediate and intrusive alerting, includes sirens, LED signage and indoor/outdoor loudspeakers, or broadcast units.
An audible or visual notification issued to a geographic section or area is much more precise and efficient in situations where different groups of people must receive different instructions depending on their physical location.
You can follow the discussion of the NFPA 72, 2010 edition in in our Technology Innovation Blog.
The U.S. Department of Education regulations also stipulate that not every emergency situation requires a mass notification. If the emergency procedures are being followed and it is determined by the responsible authorities to the best of their professional judgment that the notification would hurt the safety of a community, such notification does not have to be issued.
– A statement that the institution will, without delay, and taking into account the safety of the community, determine the content of the notification and initiate the notification system, unless issuing the notification will, in the professional judgment of responsible authorities, compromise the efforts to assist a victim or to contain, respond to, or otherwise mitigate the emergency.
According to final regulations the plan should also specify:
– A list of the titles of the persons or organizations responsible for carrying out the actions required.
– Procedures for disseminating emergency information to the larger community.
– Procedures for testing its emergency response and evacuation procedures on at least an annual basis with at least one test per calendar year, and be documented, including a description of the exercise, the date, time, and if it was announced or unannounced.
The regulations also specify the testing requirement of emergency response and evacuation procedures, which should be performed at least once per calendar year and be fully documented.
It would appear that the final regulations are consistent with a comprehensive layered approach to Mass Notification, where both geographic/area and demographic/personal notifications must be utilized to effectively reach the community in every emergency situation.
It will take time and effort to comply with the new law by the set deadline, but it is a change for a better and safer life on campus.
For further information refer to 42 CFR Part 668.
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This document is not intended to, and does not, constitute legal advice of any kind, and should not be relied upon as such. Readers are encouraged to contact their own counsel regarding such issues.
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