Understanding crisis communications: Examining students’ perceptions about campus notification systems


Following the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, colleges and universities nationwide sought to install new emergency notification systems or overhaul existing systems to alert students in the event a similar incident took place on their campus. While researchers have begun to explore the effectiveness of such systems and how they are being employed, a noticeable gap exists in the literature in respect to how this technology is being utilized by members of the campus community. The present study, conducted at a large southwestern university, sought to fill this void by examining the perceptions and employment of the system by universities’ largest segment of users – students. The findings provide continued support for the use of multimodal systems, but also indicate that more education and advertising is needed to increase student engagement with these systems. Limitations of the study, directions for future research, and related policy implications for universities also are discussed.

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  1. 1.

    For a general discussion of strengths and weaknesses by mode, see Schneider (2010).

  2. 2.

    The survey was titled ‘Emergency Notification System Survey’ in order for students to identify the topic of inquiry without potentially biasing the responses. Instructions provided to the respondents did not include information about the survey’s content also to avoid possible bias.

  3. 3.

    Classes surveyed came from the departments/schools of Anthropology, Consumer Affairs, Criminal Justice, Fashion Merchandising, Nutrition, and Social Work. Several introductory level courses were surveyed within these departments, capturing majors from Business (including Accounting, Finance, Management and Marketing), Computer Information Systems, Education, English, Fine Arts (including Art History and Dance), Geography, Health Professions, Natural Sciences (including Aquatic Biology, Biology, Environmental Studies and Microbiology), Psychology, Social Work, and Sociology. Non-degree seeking students also were included in the sample. Emails were sent to the instructors of one large introductory class in each school requesting their participation. Each instructor also was asked if the researchers could survey their upper division courses as well. Further, these individuals were asked to pass the request to survey to their departmental colleagues to secure an additional upper level course in the discipline.

  4. 4.

    Lower-division students (freshmen and sophomores) responses were compared against upperclassmen (junior and senior standing).

  5. 5.

    Because of space constraints, the additional models are not presented in table form. Copies of these are available upon request.

  6. 6.

    The ICS is a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident management approach that operates within a common organizational structure, coordinates response among various jurisdictions, and utilizes a common process for planning and managing resources. The system is flexible and can be used for incidents of any type, scope and complexity (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2014).


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Correspondence to Jaclyn Schildkraut.

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Schildkraut, J., McKenna, J. & Elsass, H. Understanding crisis communications: Examining students’ perceptions about campus notification systems. Secur J 30, 605–620 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1057/sj.2015.9

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  • emergency notification systems
  • emergency alerts
  • multimodal systems
  • Virginia Tech
  • colleges and universities