Informing Students and Staff about Safety

Institutions of higher learning face significant challenges in helping staff and students prepare for crisis situations. Many colleges and universities have made limited use of fire drills, lockdown drills, shelter-in-place drills, severe weather drills, reverse evacuation drills, and other types of drills to test plans and prepare staff and students. The diversity of educational programs, facilities, and class and activity schedules make it difficult to conduct drills regularly. The tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois Universities have created a surge in interest in drills to help prepare staff, public safety agencies, and students for emergency situations. While many institutions have been conducting tabletop, functional, and full- scale exercises, most are finding it more difficult to effectively utilize function-specific drills that can involve students frequently enough to prepare them without being unreasonably disruptive.

For example, trying to ensure that every full- and part-time student, faculty member, and employee participates in just one each of the types of drills listed above in a single semester is a difficult task. While it is important for institutions of higher learning to revisit the use of drills on campus, there are other approaches that can supplement this traditional option. One method involves thoughtfully developed training videos to supplement traditional drills. Many colleges and universities can reduce the cost of this approach because of the internal capacity they have to film and edit these types of video projects. Even when a contractor must be utilized to do the filming and editing, it is cost-effective to use this approach. The master tape version for a 37-minute school safety training video produced for the state of Georgia in 1989 cost more than $250,000. A recent federally funded project to produce a series of more complex videos for four public school systems cost less than $90,000. This cost includes segments presented in multiple languages and a companion training program to be presented by district staff for each video, as well as a series of video tabletop exercises for use by internal facilitators. Less sophisticated video safety training projects can be completed for as little as a few thousand dollars.

An experienced campus safety video producer provided these key tips for making custom safety videos.
•    Policies and emergency procedures should be finalized first. A skilled camera crew can usually find a way to get the point across, but the point must be decided first. Prevention policies, safety procedures, and emergency action steps should be finished and fully vetted before scripting scenes. Technical accuracy is vital for a video that is going to be used for several years.
•    Be careful not to depict actions you do not want people to take unless they are clearly noted as such. As mentioned above, it is easy to inadvertently show an unsafe behavior in a scene when the team is focused on a different primary point. Careful direction, editing, and review can reduce the chances that the final video accidentally shows an unsafe behavior.
•    Videos must be concise. Most people who work and study on campus are extremely busy. Few will watch a one-hour safety video. By focusing on the most critical topics and breaking them down into short but highly informative segments, there is a better chance of target audience members viewing the video(s).
•    Videos must be “watchable.” While you don’t need to create a blockbuster masterpiece to be effective, you are competing with a number of amazing communications methods serving a high-tech audience. Having a staff member stand and talk on camera is not going to work well. Fortunately, modern editing software makes it relatively easy to use simple video techniques to keep your video interesting.
•    Distribution. Modern technology allows you to reach more students remotely than ever before — think of all the time students spend on Facebook.com, MySpace.com, and YouTube.com. In addition to broadcasting the video on campus television and screening it for all new students, videos may be posted on the campus intranet.
•    Videos should be memorable. A properly developed campus safety video is unforgettable. Careful scripting and direction can make this happen. Making points in a clear and unforgettable manner can save lives because more people will remember and act upon the information.

These simple secrets can help you produce powerful safety videos that can teach students and staff what to do, what not to do, and, just as importantly, convince them why they should listen to life-saving advice. 

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, non-profit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens Website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at www.safehavensinternational.org.

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