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Homeland Security grant helps ASU faculty improve communications during disaster

October 25, 2007

MESA, Ariz. — Arizona State University is hoping to improve the way colleges and universities across the country respond and communicate when dealing with terrorism or natural disasters.

The university’s Environmental Technology Management faculty in the College of Technology and Innovation received a $1.42 million grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security 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,” said David Edwards, principal investigator. “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 Arizona State University, will identify best practices related to campus public emergency communications and develop, prepare and distribute a series of three online modular training courses on effective, multi-layered campus public emergency communications, according to Edwards.

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

The training tools will be more encompassing of campus public emergency communications compared to existing materials, as well as provide the training in a user-friendly manner that is suitable for diverse learners.

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

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 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.

“In general, we believe that campus emergency communications capabilities can be greatly improved,” said Edwards. “This project will help administrators, communications specialists and first responders communicate and work together better when it’s most critical — during a disaster.”

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