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ASU improves disaster communications

November 02, 2007

ASU is hoping to improve the way colleges and universities across the country respond and communicate when dealing with terrorism or natural disasters.

To that end, the university’s Environmental Technology Management faculty in the College of Technology and Innovation has received a $1.42 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The grant will be used to explore public emergency communications needs at campuses and universities nationwide, and to develop appropriate online multimedia emergency communications training materials for campus administrators, communications experts, other faculty and staff, state and local leaders, emergency managers, and first responders having jurisdiction over campus safety during emergencies or disasters.

“Communications constitute a vital link in the chain of systems, protocols and practices designed to help protect college and university campuses,” says principal investigator David Edwards. “ASU’s new university-wide text messaging alert system, to which faculty, staff and students can voluntarily subscribe, is a good example of a recent step taken toward enhancing campus emergency communications capabilities.”

As part of the grant, the team of Edwards, Hal Berkowitz, Al Brown, Jon Duff, Danny Peterson and Jeff Thomas of the Department of Technology Management, as well as other faculty and staff at ASU, will identify best practices related to campus public emergency communications. They will develop, prepare and distribute a series of three online modular training courses on effective, multilayered campus public emergency communications, Edwards says.

“We plan to integrate best practices from the nation’s 3,700 campuses and universities,” he says. “Understanding how others work will help enhance interoperability, cooperation and coordination between campus personnel, state and local responders, and public administrators.”

The training tools will be more encompassing of campus public emergency communications compared to existing materials, as well as provide the training in suitable ways for diverse learners.

“When researching other training programs, we found that they were missing various aspects needed for campus applications, or they were not conducive to all types of learners,” Edwards says.

The task of identifying best practices will involve surveys and face-to-face interviews with campus administrators, emergency managers, and communicators in multiple states, as well as professionals having jurisdictional homeland security roles in campus safety and emergency response.

The multimedia courses will incorporate the principles of effective campus public emergency communications, emergency communications protocols and systems, and emergency communications backup systems and procedures.

The faculty members working on this project have several years of offering courses and degree programs online. But before the new training modules move to online, three face-to-face blended pilot courses will be developed and implemented for testing purposes. Once modifications are made, the courses will be available on a secure server for any authorized personnel to access.

The first of the three training programs is expected to be completed in early 2009.