School Emergency Notification Systems Explained

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In 2021, 77% of American public schools reported one violent incident on school property to local law enforcement. Additionally, 47% of these schools had to contact law enforcement several times throughout that same school year. These stark statistics show that there is a pressing (and increasing) need for effective school emergency notification systems.


Emergency Notification System for Schools
Data source: American Institutes for Research


Most American school administrators are all too aware of this critical need. The problem is that many school alert systems are inconvenient and difficult to configure and deploy. This isn’t just a problem for usability, it’s a safety concern.

When emergencies occur, rapid, real-time response is crucial. An overly complex system that relies on multiple deployment methods wastes precious time that you can’t afford to lose.

To address this concern, let’s take a closer look at mass notification systems for schools. We’ll discuss how they work and what you should look for in a system that supports rapid, agile responses to quickly changing situations.
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What is an Emergency Notification System for Schools?

An emergency notification system allows all building or public space occupants to be notified of an imminent threat or emergency as quickly as possible. They are also called emergency mass notification systems (EMNS).

In many cases, an EMNS will also respond to community incidents, not just ones on school property. This means that if an emergency occurs in the neighborhood where the school is located, the emergency system will still go off.

For example, an inner city school may trigger their school lockdown alert system as an extra safety precaution if a violent crime occurs nearby but off school property.


“The right EMNS can quickly turn a moment of chaos into a coordinated effort .” – Brian Brunette, Vice President of Operations. Global CTI


So far, we’ve focused on violence and crime. However, you should keep in mind that this is not the only purpose of EMNS in schools. Acts of nature such as tornadoes, earthquakes, or floods, fire alarms, and medical emergency notification systems may also often fall under the EMNS umbrella.

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Common Notification Methods

When people picture mass emergency notifications at a school, images of PA speakers and outdoor campus speakers usually come to mind. However, this is only one of many ways an EMNS notifies people on the premise.

In fact, your system shouldn’t rely solely on PA systems. Families, off-campus students & staff, and people in various parts of the building won’t be able to hear PA announcements, especially during period gaps and assemblies. Multiple communication channels give everyone who needs to know the opportunity to know.

Additionally, effective communication with first responders is crucial during an emergency. So, your EMNS should have the capability to directly alert local police, fire departments, and medical teams no matter your chosen method. This ensures quicker response times.

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Many EMNS systems have automated mass phone call capabilities. Such systems can automatically dial all registered numbers to deliver an automated voice message. ACTIVATE takes this one step further by also providing a rapid, one-click connection to 9-1-1.

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Email provides a fast, efficient way to disseminate highly-detailed information to a large audience. It’s often used to keep families up-to-date or to tell off-campus students or staff to stay off-campus. Email is also relatively private, so it may be favorable if you don’t want the general public to be aware of situational details as the crisis evolves.

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Social Media

Like email, social media platforms will also quickly disseminate information to a large audience. However, due to character limitations these notifications may not be as detailed as they would be via email.

The advantage is its public nature. News will travel fast and dispersing the right information to the right groups is critical to avoid panic and keep the public informed as situations change.

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Website Announcements

Your school’s website often serves as a central hub for all important updates and announcements. In the event of an emergency, you may decide to post a prominent notification on the website’s homepage. This can be an effective way to get the word out, but it relies on people visiting your school’s website.

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Panic Button

A panic button in an EMNS system sends instant alerts to onsite staff and 9-1-1. Notifications include key details like incident location and facility data. The feature usually works as a mobile app, known as a peace app, and offers a direct, quick link to emergency services.

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PA Announcements

PA announcements serve as a quick way to share urgent news throughout a school. While not everyone might hear these, due to being outside or in noisy areas, they are effective for those nearby.

Schools use PA systems for immediate actions like lockdowns or evacuations. However, integrating PA systems with other forms of communication is best to ensure that no one is left uninformed.

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An SMS alert system for schools is to be expected in the digital age. This is especially true for high school and college mass notification systems. Although, an increasing number of younger students also use mobile phones. SMS alerts are also hard to miss, especially if push notifications are enabled.


Further Reading for Education Professionals


The challenge with multiple notification methods is that not all EMNS systems can automatically utilize all methods at once. This means that staff must manually issue the alert across every channel, which consumes time they don’t have.

An effective, modern EMNS solution, like ACTIVATE, will issue alerts across all channels at once. This also makes it much simpler to issue new notifications as the situation unfolds in real-time.

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Remember ADA-Compliance

The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) asserts that emergency notification systems must be recognizable to all people. An ADA-compliant EMNS must include:

  • Both visual and audio alerts (alarm lights and sounds)
  • Push notifications on mobile devices
  • Text-to-Speech capabilities for any textual notifications
  • Video relay service to assist people with hearing or speech disabilities
  • Alert customization including full-screen, partial-screen, or ticker mode takeovers on desktops, and static or scrolling text on VoIP phone screens

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Alongside integrating all notification methods, ACTIVATE is ADA-compliant


Faster Connections to Emergency Services

With many school emergency systems, staff must call 9-1-1 separately. This is one extra step that most people don’t have time for when every second counts. This can be even tougher if you need to connect you to your local fire, police, or hospital directly instead of through 9-1-1.

Modern solutions like ACTIVATE provide priority connections to 9-1-1 services as part of your alert system. This way, staff can update first responders as quickly as they update everyone else. This is crucial when situations change.

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What is a Priority Connection to 9-1-1?

A priority connection to 9-1-1 allows certain callers to receive expedited access to emergency services when dialing 9-1-1. Typically, when someone dials 9-1-1, their call is directed to a Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP), where trained operators answer and dispatch the appropriate emergency services.

However, in situations where a caller has a priority connection, they bypass any potential delays through the PSAP call center and receive immediate attention from emergency operators.

As the standard emergency line throughout America, it might come as a surprise that there is even such a thing as “priority” connections. However, consider that there are approximately 600,000 9-1-1 calls per day and out of those, a shockingly high 70% aren’t really emergencies.

When your alert system gives you a priority connection, it’s pushing your emergency ahead of that 70%. Without it, operators have no way of knowing which calls are for urgent situations and which are for non-urgent complaints. It also gives you the opportunity to quickly report new updates without call center delays.

Getting in touch is critical. However, it’s also critical that emergency personnel can quickly react. That’s why ACTIVATE enables the preloading of campus floorplans, access points, and the district’s emergency operation plan (EOP) for first responders. This preparation helps them respond more effectively upon arrival.

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Why a Mass Notification System for Schools is Necessary

Schools are responsible for the well-being of every student in their care. They also share the same responsibilities as other public buildings. These shared responsibilities include ensuring clear and timely communication to all present during emergencies. That simply can’t be done without a mass notification system.

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Legal Requirements

Schools (like all public buildings) are legally required to have some emergency mass notification systems in place. Here are some things to know.

The preceding 3 legal requirements apply to most public buildings. Schools in particular also have their own additional sets of legal requirements. These can vary based on your state. Please consult your state guidelines to find out what you need to cover.

For example, community colleges must adhere to Ray Baum’s Act and the Clery Act. These acts mandate the following requirements.

  • Ray Baum’s Act requires that calls to 9-1-1 from campus phones do not need extra numbers to reach an outside line. Calls must also provide exact location details to emergency responders to support quick response times on large campuses.
  • The Clery Act requires colleges to issue timely warnings about threats, which an effective emergency notification system can provide.

Whether you’re part of a community college or any other educational institution, an EMNS must become an important part of your emergency response plan. You can use effective implementation and practice as part of your proof that you are meeting your required emergency preparedness policies.

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As mentioned, there are a wide variety of reasons why your staff may trigger your school emergency notification system. Examples of situations where EMNS tools may be used at your school include:

  • Student behavior (such as a fight or physical assault on a staff member)
  • Missing student
  • Student threatening harm to self and/or others
  • Natural disasters like earthquakes, severe thunderstorms, or wildfires
  • Fire
  • Bomb threat
  • Nearby escalating civil unrest (such as a violent protest)
  • Dangerous structural damage
  • Traffic accident on school property
  • Animal threats (such as a bear or cougar on premises in regions where this may occur)
  • Chemical or carbon monoxide leak
  • Hazardous material spill
  • Active shooter
  • Suspicious person on the premises
  • Public health emergency
  • Power outage
  • Nearby community violence such as a robbery

Active shooters are often put at the forefront in discussions about school emergencies, but as you can see that’s far from the only risk. Therefore, even if you believe that an active shooter is unlikely, you still need to be prepared for a long list of other possibilities. For instance, an animal threat or community incident may also warrant a school lockdown.
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Mass Notification System for Schools

Medical Emergencies

When a medical emergency occurs at a school, your EMNS system must be able to quickly inform everyone who needs to know. Severe allergic reactions, heart attacks, and serious injuries are all possible incidents that can occur on school grounds.

Once activated, the emergency system can alert medical personnel, contact family members, and inform the school community to get help to the person in need right away. Having this system in place can also help prevent panic as those nearby the affected person will have clear next steps.

Outside emergencies, your school could also use your alert system to send out health alerts, vaccination reminders, or safety protocol updates.

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Day-to-Day Uses

An effective mass communication system has other uses outside of emergency situations. Of course, it’s not a good idea to connect to 9-1-1 for these situations, but you can use a unified mass communication system for other purposes.

Most schools already use their PA system for announcements, events, and other important deadlines. However, by integrating your technology, you could send certain notifications across communication channels in one sweep.

This is especially useful if the important deadline is fast-approaching and you need as many people as possible to hear the announcement as soon as possible.

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Common School Emergency System Implementation Challenges & What You Can Do About Them

While the importance of emergency notification systems in schools is undeniable, implementing these systems is not without its challenges. Here are some of the most common hurdles schools face when trying to establish an effective emergency notification system.

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It’s no secret that schools (especially public schools) are always concerned about cost. Funding challenges in education are dependent on many things out of the district’s control, and leveraging grants and other revenue streams require time and personnel investments.There are a few of the reasons why district boards turn down proposals for expensive modern notification systems.

It’s important to realize that the most cost-effective solution isn’t necessarily the cheapest upfront. Look for a solution that will save time and resources during implementation and in the event of an emergency.

A low upfront cost will quickly become expensive if extensive resources need to be put towards implementing and managing it properly.

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Technical Integration

One of the primary challenges during the implementation phase is the integration of the emergency notification system with the existing infrastructure. Schools often have a variety of communication systems already in place, such as PA systems, email servers, and phone networks. You need a solution that unifies it all for fast effective communication.

This stresses the importance of choosing a solution like ACTIVATE that’s built for this purpose. Make sure your EMNS is compatible with older hardware and isn’t isolated to one part of your infrastructure.

Additionally, integrators like Global CTI make staff training and system testing part of their annual services to ensure the system is operating at peak efficiency and new and existing staff members understand what to do in a crisis.

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Staff Training

Your new EMNS isn’t much help if no one knows how to use it. Don’t implement your new system under the assumption that everyone will just “get it.” Take time to learn how it works yourself and roll out training to everyone who will use it.

A user-friendly system will make this process quicker. The faster you and your staff can learn it, the sooner you can put it to use.
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Struggling with Emergency Notification Solutions for Multiple Campuses?

Learn how ACTIVATE makes EMNS a breeze for a Ventura County multi-campus college.

Read the Case Study

How to Manage an EMNS

The goal of an EMNS is to ensure your school’s emergency readiness at all times. Making sure it fulfills this purpose requires proper management techniques. Here are some tips you should follow.

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System Familiarization

The first step in managing an EMNS is to understand how it works. This includes knowing how to activate the system, how to send out notifications, and how to use the various features of the system. It’s also important to understand the different types of emergencies that the system can handle.

All staff members should be trained on how to use the EMNS. This includes teachers, administrators, and support staff. Training should be regular, comprehensive, and cover all aspects of the system.

Your EMNS provider should include annual training and testing to ensure changes to your system are adapted properly.

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System Testing

The EMNS should be tested regularly to ensure that it’s working properly. This doesn’t just include drills. It also includes testing the system’s ability to send out notifications, its integration with other systems (like PA systems or fire alarms), and its ability to handle different types of emergencies.

You should also regularly check to ensure that your system maintains regulatory standards. Regulations often change, so make sure you keep up with relevant standards and ensure you’re staying compliant.

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Data Maintenance

The EMNS is only as good as the information it has. So, it’s crucial for you to keep all contact information up-to-date, including phone numbers and email addresses. If you don’t, many people who need the notification may not get it.

You should also make sure that the system is updated with any changes to the school’s layout or procedures. Your emergency system won’t work effectively if it is misaligned with your policies or misdirects people onsite.

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Performance Review

After every emergency or drill, it’s important to review the performance of the EMNS. This can help identify any issues or areas for improvement. It may also be a good opportunity to review your school’s emergency protocols, not just the system itself.

Additionally, post incident reporting should be mandatory from your EMNS provider to provide this feedback.

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Community Engagement

Keep the wider school community informed about the EMNS and its operation. This helps ensure that everyone knows what to do in the event of an emergency. Remember, students and staff aren’t the only members of your school community. Families, nearby businesses, and other community members should also be in the loop.

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Consistent Staff Training

Staff should participate in refresher courses to maintain their readiness. This ongoing training ensures that everyone can act quickly and correctly during an emergency. It also allows staff to stay current with any system updates or procedural changes.

Regular training sessions offer an opportunity for staff to share concerns or suggestions, contributing to continuous improvement.

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How You Could Use ACTIVATE

Elite EMNS systems like ACTIVATE can integrate and unify numerous communication tools into one centralized emergency alert system for schools.

This gives schools faster, more effective means to instantly notify campus occupants of an urgent situation over multiple communication streams such as smartphones, PA systems or even a pop-up alert on devices within a school’s network.

These innovations give schools more power to reduce harm and save lives in an emergency.

For instance, let’s say a teacher in a classroom notices a suspicious person wandering the school halls and realizes they need to initiate a lockdown. With a comprehensive EMNS system, the teacher can use their EMNS tool to start lockdown procedures instantly, alert all building occupants of the threat and notify campus safety officers within seconds.

Examples of how ACTIVATE eases a school’s emergency notification processes include:

  • Panic button capability
  • Two-way texting among faculty and staff
  • Communicate with emergency responders in real-time
  • Wellness check notifications
  • Easily schedule security drills

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Contact Global CTI For Your School Emergency System

As we’ve discussed, the need for an effective school emergency notification system is pressing. Yet, most traditional systems require 10 to 30 minutes to coordinate an emergency activation. This is unacceptable when every second counts.

If that sounds like your system, it’s time for an upgrade. Global CTI’s ACTIVATE is a rapid EMNS system that’s able to integrate with 95% of communication hardware. That means you won’t need to change your whole PA system to introduce ACTIVATE.


ACTIVATE provides one-touch activation for all types of emergencies and can be customized to every location in your school district. It also provides two-way texting, wellness check notifications, and real-time collaboration with first responders.

Contact Global CTI to introduce ACTIVATE to your school system.

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