SHSU Rolls Out New KatSafe Website, App
Nov. 2, 2015
SHSU Media Contact: Julia May
|This is an example of how the main SHSU page will look during an activitation of the KatSafe alert notification system. A dedicated KatSafe page is now live and accessible by clicking the KatSafe tab on the right-hand side of the main page.|
When Sam Houston State University first implemented the KatSafe emergency notification system in the summer of 2008, it was intended for such situations as severe weather threats and campus closures.
Faculty, staff and students had the choice to “opt in” and provide personal contact information, depending on whether or not they wished to receive alerts and updates.
Two years later, the infamous “SHSU Nerf gun incident” occurred—in which several students with toy guns were mistaken for actual shooters—and revealed how the expectation for timely notification in situations had escalated. KatSafe was initiated on that day, but not until the incident was over.
The university community expressed great concern and dissatisfaction that KatSafe had been underutilized in what could have been a truly critical incident. University officials decided to examine communication procedures and determine what measures to take for improvements.
Since that time, SHSU has added other components to KatSafe for emergency notification, such as the outdoor warning sirens placed across campus, Facebook and Twitter messaging, and a desktop alert system. A full test of KatSafe is conducted twice annually, and the sirens and desktop alert system are tested monthly. In addition, personal contact information is now automatically loaded from the SHSU information system, and the "opted in" status is set for everyone before the start of each fall semester.
With the university’s rapid growth in enrollment in recent years, administrators felt that a position for the responsibility of emergency preparedness should be added to those already in place for security, safety and risk management.
David Yebra—a retired army lieutenant colonel with worldwide operational experience, including three years of combat in Iraq—was tapped to be the new director of emergency preparedness and safety.
“My supervisors, Steve Shields and Dave Hammonds, presented me with a vision of where we could be in terms of emergency preparedness,” Yebra said. “We hope that eventually we can be a model for others.”
Since his appointment, Yebra has taken FEMA and incident command courses, in addition to reaching out to mentors and experts in the community to learn as much as he could about local and regional emergency procedures and operations.
“If you look at a number of lessons learned in reaction to emergency situations, one of the areas most often cited has to do with the relationships that are established prior to a situation,” he said. “Those relationships include working with first responders, law enforcement agencies, public information officers, the hospital, the fire chief, and other community leaders that are involved in preparations and responses to emergency situations.”
After identifying a number of best practices on campus, in the community and across the country from other institutions of higher education, Yebra convened a local group for discussion.
“The first item had to do with enhancing our emergency notification system through the development of a KatSafe website,” he said. “We looked at websites from other universities such as Duke, UConn, UT-Austin, Texas A&M, Purdue, and others, and we blended the best of what we liked into our own KatSafe website.”
The website includes tabs to get information about specific situations or threats, from active shooter to hurricanes; some include videos. A link also provides information about suicide prevention.
“We felt it was important to address the full range of risks our students may encounter,” Yebra said. “We collaborated with the Counseling Center to offer instructions on what number to call for help during office hours, who to call at night or on weekends, and the warning signs. It’s all about students taking care of each other.”
There is also information about road closures on campus to assist emergency responders and provide information for safe evacuation and sheltering.
The page also features a “Special Events Checklist” for considerations such as weather, resourcing for law enforcement, specific situations for guests attending the event, and pre-determined messages to “fill in the blank” in case announcements are needed during the activity.
“The main SHSU home page will look normal unless a critical incident is affecting campus,” said Yebra. “At that time, a large, red banner will be on the page indicating that there is an emergency-type situation, and the KatSafe page will provide additional details. The KatSafe page also will let the university community know if there are closures on the main campus or at The Woodlands center, and whether or not those closures impact other university events like athletic games or performing arts presentations.
“The KatSafe page also will have a time stamp so that you will know that you are viewing the most timely information,” he said.
Yebra also incorporated ideas for training videos and video series from several other universities, as well as readyhoustontx.gov and their active shooter series.
“We use the school mascot, Sammy Bearkat, and SHSU locales in our videos so that our audience can easily identify with situations where they might find themselves while on campus,” he said.
“We are very fortunate to have a knowledgeable video production team already in place with our SHSU Online professionals,” said Yebra. “They were able to quickly put together the critical videos we needed.
“We’ve taken advantage of the new technology and scoreboard at Bowers Stadium to present safety messages that offer information on medical resources as well as what to do in the event of inclement weather, particularly lightning strikes,” he said. “We’ve also produced videos for major events such as commencement exercises and other things that take place in the Coliseum.”
Yebra has also worked to develop a mobile app that mirrors and complements the KatSafe website. To get the app, download Sam Houston State University Guidebook on the Apple App Store or Android Marketplace.
“We can’t prepare for every situation,” Yebra said. “However, enabling others to act in a crisis will help protect their lives and the lives of others.
“We can get ahead of some areas that we won’t have to worry about when an emergency occurs,” he said. “The more that people know what to do, the greater the chance that we can reduce risks.
“I feel that the newly enhanced KatSafe system meets the current demands of our staff, faculty, students, and it will reassure the parents who are concerned about the safety and welfare of their sons and daughters, as well as those who are on campus to attend summer camps and special events or schedule tours or stop by for a visit,” he said. “The will know that while they are at Sam Houston State, this is how we intend to take care of them and give them that comfort of being safe on campus.”
To see the new website, click on the KatSafe tab on the main SHSU page, or go to shsu.edu/katsafe.
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