By: Srijani Datta, Assistant News Editor
Snow days at SFU leave students in a bind, as classes are cancelled mid-day, exams are postponed, and, sometimes, the whole campus is suddenly closed off, often leaving students stranded. To address this problem head-on, SFU has recently enhanced its crisis communications channels.
The new additions include Alertus Desktop Notifications and SFU Snap, which are part of SFU Alerts. So far, the emergency communications channels have been limited to the SFU social media pages, emails, and school website. The goal behind the new effort is to reach out to the university community in a timely manner.
In an interview with The Peak conducted by email, SFU’s Chief Safety Officer, Safety and Risk Services Mark Lalonde stressed that, “The safety and security of the SFU community is always our number one priority.
“We believe that our current channels for emergency messaging will allow us to get emergency messaging out both promptly and reliably.” – Mark Lalonde, Chief Safety Officer, Safety and Risk Services
We asked Lalonde to break down the new extended channels for emergency notifications and ongoing crisis communication for us.
The Peak: What has been some of the safety security challenges of the SFU community?
Mark Lalonde: SFU is a community of some forty thousand people, spread across three municipalities. Similar to other universities, safety challenges we prepare for include earthquake, fire, extreme weather, critical events in laboratories, personal safety and sexual violence, to name a few.
TP: Exactly what kind of problems are the new communication channels supposed to address?
ML: By far the most common use of our emergency communications channels is during snow events. In the case of closures due to severe weather such as snow, the university community will be advised via email notification, SFU Twitter, the SFU Website, and on-campus digital screens.
After every winter season SFU administration reviews the Severe Weather Plan to identify lessons learned and seek feedback from our community, all of which is incorporated into the planning process for the next winter.
TP: What are the extended communications channels?
ML: SFU Alerts is a suite of urgent notification systems that allows the university to quickly notify students, faculty, and staff using a variety of methods. The university has extended the communication channels to include Alertus Desktop Notification, which is a pop-up alert on SFU-managed computers, and the SFU Snap app that delivers push notifications on mobile devices.
Urgent notifications include any security or safety situation that requires you to leave or avoid an area of the university.
TP: How are the new additions going to complement existing ones?
ML: Our community is diverse in how it receives information and no one single channel meets the needs of all, hence the requirement to offer multiple channels simultaneously to reach as many people as possible – all at the same time. We are constantly researching new innovative technologies and best practices when it comes to emergency and crisis communication to ensure the safety of the university community and may add more channels in the future.
Lalonde informed us that, while increasing the number of crisis communication channels, the university has a multi-year plan to study and test its emergency response and notification capabilities through drills and exercises. Because of this effort, on Tuesday, May 15, SFU will be testing its campus lockdown procedures on the SFU Surrey campus.
As Lalonde explained, a campus lockdown is an emergency procedure to ensure that the occupants of university buildings are protected from an active threat. This measure is implemented only when necessary. He further mentioned that, to ensure everyone’s safety, it is essential that all campus community members understand what is expected when a lockdown situation occurs.
“On the morning of May 15, the SFU Surrey campus community will be notified of the drill through a number of channels including the annunciator system, SFU desktop alerts, digital screens, and social media,” he wrote. “If you are on campus, we request your cooperation to allow the SFU community to participate in the drill, which is expected to last 10 minutes.”
Lalonde stated that SFU is constantly researching new and innovative methods and best practices when it comes to emergency and crisis communication to ensure the safety of the university community. In Lalonde’s words, “The university is committed to the safety of the community by ensuring that our plans, practices, resources and personnel are appropriate to our context.”