Trial by fire: mass notification in a unique integration

FlamesNo matter how long ago you went to college, you’ll remember the hustle and bustle: students everywhere, coming and going from the seemingly dozens of things happening at once.

Now imagine you’re running a college, dealing with that chaos on a day-to-day basis, when the unthinkable happens… You receive a call that says a fire has broken out in the brush-covered hills nearby.

That’s exactly what happened at California State University’s San Marcos campus on May 14, 2014. Heat was in the triple digits and the wind was strong—the worst possible combination for wildfires—when the San Diego County school’s emergency operations center received the call.

This was definitely not a drill. CSUSM’s 13,000 students and 2,000 faculty and staff had to be alerted and evacuated quickly, and families and the community needed to be notified ASAP.

Enter emergency notification from MIR3.

Some years earlier, CSUSM emergency manager Robert Williams had a vision of a notification system that could not only alert people across the sprawling campus (more than 20 buildings across 300+ acres) but also reach students’ families, students that were off campus and even members of the media and nearby community.

In evaluating existing solutions he found that while it was possible to do what he wanted, trying to do it in a conventional fashion would have been complicated and time-consuming.

He approached MIR3 about integrating mass notification in a way that would also activate the other alerting mechanisms on campus, like speakers, digital signage, computer alerts and even door-locking mechanisms. Working together, Williams and the MIR3 team found a way to integrate CSUSM’s system, known as AlertU, and Intelligent Notification.

“AlertU system worked exactly as expected,” Williams says. “Over 33,000 emails, 25,000 phone calls, and 11,000 texts were delivered within five minutes, and an orderly and complete evacuation ensued.”

The fire eventually burned its way to the back door of the campus, consuming nearly 2,000 acres and leveling 36 homes and one business—but the students, faculty, staff and community were safe.