With 40,000 students and 3,000 staff members located on a 126-hectare campus in the heart of Sydney, Australia, Macquarie University faces a unique security challenge. Besides the large student and faculty population, this 52-year-old, top-ranked university sits near a major shopping precinct, train station, a large motorway, and a high-tech business park.
With safety a key consideration for students attending the university, and to meet regulatory compliance requirements for staff workplace health and safety, the Emergency Management Team needed a critical incident mass notification solution that could deliver targeted alerts to potentially thousands of students and personnel – in real-time – using multiple channels. Macquarie didn’t want to ask people to carry an extra device, so a key requirement was to find an easy-to-deploy solution that would integrate with what staff and students already had in their hands – mobiles and laptops.
“Macquarie University takes the safety of students and staff very seriously, particularly considering that security is one of the top three reasons students come to Australian universities,” said John Durbridge, Campus Security Manager, Property, Macquarie University. “As a world-class institution, we require world-class technology to ensure Macquarie University is ‘crisis-ready’.”
After careful evaluation, Macquarie University chose to implement the AtHoc Networked Crisis Communications Suite to enable immediate and effective communication to members of the University community in the event of a crisis, both remotely and on-site. For example, warning people not to enter the campus in the event of an incident; or alerting people in a specific building or area in the event of a fire alarm.
“We wanted to be crisis-ready and have a robust mass notification system in place,” said Durbridge. ”Although we approached several overseas and local companies, we were most impressed with AtHoc’s security credentials with the U.S. Defence Force and the solution’s ability to tick all the boxes in our ‘wish list’. AtHoc’s solution was the obvious choice.”
The AtHoc solution deployed by Macquarie won a technical award from the Australian Security Industry Awards for Excellence and gives Durbridge “peace of mind.” Here’s why.
A Multi-Platform Campus
The suite of integrated applications, Alert, Collect, Account and Connect, that was deployed by Macquarie runs on AtHoc’s secure Internet of Things cloud platform. It uses mobility, hybrid cloud and the IP network to deliver a unified, secure end-to-end solution that allows real-time communication with the university community, alerting them via email as well as via optional text messages.
The system syncs directly with the University’s Active Directory listing of students and faculty each day, ensuring that the database is live and accurate, and can share a single format message over multiple platforms in the event of a crisis on campus, or in the surrounding area.
The solution’s underlying commitment to data security and privacy was of paramount importance, requiring the protection of personal details that are necessary for emergency response systems. It was not an option for these channels to be breached and the information leaked, so it was vital that the latest state-of-the art security was built into the technology’s DNA.
Another key issue was ensuring that any crisis response alerts could be seen quickly by the Macquarie University community – and also for the security response team to know when they are opened or read.
“We were aware when researching an appropriate solution that anything that required additional technology platforms was not going to give us the response rate we required,” said Durbridge. “We needed something that was multi-platform and integrated with the devices already used by our staff and students. This was why AtHoc was the perfect choice for our needs – it was delivered on a layer of channels and provided a range of options to contact individuals.”
Ease of Use and Implementation
The speed of integration and ease of deployment was another factor that impressed Macquarie University. “We were able to move from the decision to implement the system through to integration in less than six months, including testing,” said Durbridge. “This was extremely important to us as we needed a solution aimed directly at the safety of our staff and students. After all, you never know when a crisis is likely to occur.”
When the system was up and running, Macquarie University was able to use the technology right away without the need for extensive training.
“The system was incredibly easy to use and to communicate to staff and students. We were especially impressed with the self-service portal and real-time alert system, allowing us to see the status of the messages shared,” said Durbridge. “There was even the functionality to drill into the location of those that had received the messages, for example if they were on or off campus. We test the system twice a day to ensure we are always ready to go, and use it for various emergency responses such as fire evacuations as it caters for all levels of risk.”
World-Class Support and Scalability
According to Durbridge, the ease of deployment, ongoing management, scalability and multi-platform reach enables the university to “keep our staff and students safe – 24/7.”
He continued: “The security team especially likes the real-time feedback of the system which allows us to maintain real-time responses to alerts sent and to have greater control over our solution. The AtHoc customer service team is always on hand to support us.”
For an organisation like Macquarie University, the ability to easily increase functionality is paramount. The AtHoc Networked Crisis Communication Suite provides multiple options for further scalability.
As the requirements of Macquarie University evolve, the campus security team is working closely with AtHoc to look at enhanced functionality available with the Networked Crisis Communications Platform. For example, this might include geo-targeting capability that can alert building wardens in a specific location during a fire evacuation. Or, for staff working late at night on campus, the ‘duress’ button on the AtHoc mobile application would provide an extra security layer, in addition to the physical emergency call buttons already in place.”
“We work in an environment where the importance of the safety of our students and staff is something that can’t be underestimated,” Durbridge said. “We are constantly looking to ways to enhance our systems and AtHoc provides the scalability and functionality for us to do this.”