March 12, 2020 Lauri Stone

Universities and Coronavirus – Unprecedented Challenges

With the coronavirus pandemic at the front center of the world stage, the need for rapid, effective and reliable communication is critical among university and college communities. Your college website’s performance will be put to the test.

How will your desktop and mobile sites perform with a heavy increase in traffic?  Will the page loads take too long or will it all crash?  Load test simulations are key to emergency preparation but in the meantime, here is a handy tool to measure page speed on both desktop and mobile and you will know in less than a minute how well your sites are performing. It’s kind of fun unless your numbers come back low and then, not so much albeit, all the wiser.


Performance is not something you notice. If done well, it is transparent.   -Malcolm Isaacs, Senior Technical Evangelist, HP


The world is now mobile-first. Mobile performance management isn’t a one-time task nor is it easy.  The solution lies in the architecture and each piece must be positioned to deliver the information your students, parents, and faculty need and in a crisis, there’s no room for risks to meet the expectations and demands. There are key strategies that you will want to leverage to improve performance. For information on strategies improving mobile performance with tools such as content delivery networks (CDN), software containers and new ways to build and deploy portable cloud applications, click here.


Photo credit Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Emergency Notification Systems

It is a fact that not one notification system will reach everyone, everywhere, every time. It is also a fact that individual alert systems components are not 100% reliable. This is where redundancy plays a key role in the many components that will ensure the success of the emergency notification system.


Regular testing of the components is required to ensure efficiency and this also serves to familiarize recipients with the system’s features. All tests must be evaluated and any deficiencies need to be addressed as necessary. In fact, it is safe to say that a constant evaluation must be performed to confirm the components are functioning as they should. In doing so, you will also determine what communication methods, if any, have become obsolete and as well, new communication methods may be identified.


What are the components?

  • Website home page emergency banner, re-directing, dedicated emergency management website
  • Mass communication tools such as Blackboard Connect
    • Mass Email
    • Telephone call out
    • Text messages
    • Social Media; Facebook, Twitter
  • Indoor mass notification
  • Media advisories
  • Hotline
  • Voicemail

Who is in charge? Who’s 2nd in charge? And 3rd? Back up is key and so is training.

Leaders form committees and sub-committees who serve as back-up in case the lead becomes unavailable when action must be taken. So these committees meet regularly to review the emergency notification and alerting issues and to recommend and implement policies, procedures, and systems.  Multiple staff members in multiple departments are also trained to operate those components to make sure that all trained staff can be relied upon for implementing emergency procedures at any given time regardless of who is on schedule or available when the need arises.

Communication is at the forefront of effectively managing a crisis internally and externally. These committees must be kept updated as to how the system is functioning, their capabilities, and those trained individuals who can launch alert system components when an emergency arises. Usually, a roster is kept reviewed and updated as necessary.  Also keeping a set of hard copy instructions, passcodes, and other vital information in case systems go down is a very good idea.


Social media and information accuracy

The value of social media in education is powerful and an essential communication channel to help students, faculty, and parents stay connected.  It is a fact that false information can and will be generated and circulated outside of official channels. This means your website’s alert messages should be accurate, clear, concise, and instantly recognizable as “official” and there should be designated personnel to monitor your social media.

You already have a notifications process in place as far as your emergency planning. Once you have chosen your preferred social media channel for emergency communication, it must be promoted. When an emergency takes place, redirecting your web visitors from your homepage to your social media page not only helps take the load off but multiple channels of communication must be available in emergencies. Plan this process and test it with drills throughout the year.  Make sure all relevant staff have access to the emergency channel with login details, etc. and routinely change the password.

If you find, during your testing and evaluations that you need to improve your website’s performance and you need to do so very quickly, consider help from credible and reliable outside support. Because taking the load off of yourself can be just like putting the mask on yourself before helping others in response to emergencies. And we all know how important that is.


For more information on web development, design, and support, visit Sanmita, Inc


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Lauri Stone

Lauri Stone is Director of Client Relations at Sanmita, Inc., a web design and development firm offering strategy, design, and technology services to higher education, government, and nonprofit entities. She comes to Sanmita with over 25 years of experience in media marketing and advertising and is located in Los Angeles, California.