Speech Keeps Students Safe During Hurricane Season

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With the start of another school year, and another hurricane season, a number of educational institutions are going to be a little safer this year, thanks to speech technologies.

Blackboard, a provider of education technology, signed two new client agreements that extend for the first time its Blackboard Connect mass message delivery and notification services to the Caribbean. 

Inter-American University in Puerto Rico and the American University of Antigua can now keep staff and students safe by sending them news, information, and alerts via voice, text, and email messaging—all in minutes.

According to Karl Engkvist, executive vice president of Blackboard Connect, the company—which has a client base of more than 2,500 institutions—has been able to observe and share a lot of effective practices that its customers use during major events like a hurricane.

Engkvist says Blackboard Connect allows its customers to provide warnings about approaching storms, information about evacuations, and news about recovery and cleanup efforts.

In the event of a hurricane, Eng-kvist says schools, universities, and municipalities can use Blackboard Connect to provide information directly to their communities via the power of their own voices.  

“Messages can be sent out over voice to landlines or mobile phones, sent over text messaging, or sent over email,” he says. “It’s a good way to make sure the community is prepared in a coordinated way based on what that leader is hoping people will do—it could be stocking up water; it could be preparing evacuation plans.

“One of the roles we believe we play is to bring the power of the community back to the rest of our client base,” he adds. “We try to make sure in advance of events that can be anticipated…that we’re reminding our customer base of effective, good practices around hurricanes.”

Inter-American University—which has been using the company’s Blackboard Learn platform for six years—expanded its agreement to include the Blackboard Connect multimodal communication platform, enabling officials to quickly send messages to all students, teachers, and staff. 

American University of Antigua will also integrate the Blackboard Connect platform as part of its campus-wide communications plan. The school will be able to reach students and the community with notices and instructions surrounding hurricane and tropical storm warnings, as well as volcanoes and earthquakes that are somewhat common in the area. 

According to Blackboard, during last year’s hurricane season, Blackboard Connect was used to send more than 87 million messages to residents, students, parents, and staff. 

The Blackboard Connect solution has already had great success on the U.S. mainland. At Houston Independent School District (HISD), Blackboard Connect is used to maintain a safe and healthy learning environment for students and to quickly deliver information to parents and staff, according to Lisa Bunse, manager of the HISD Information Center. “With Blackboard Connect, I have a direct line to 29,000 HISD staff members and 200,000 students and parents—anytime I need it,” she wrote in an email to Speech Technology. “I simply log on through the Internet, or dial in, for secure access to send and verify messages with the click of a button.”

Bunse says HISD used the solution several times in the past year during urgent situations. “Last fall, we were able to communicate safety instructions surrounding Hurricane Ike and to inform parents and staff when it was safe to come back to school,” she wrote, noting that the school will be using the solution again this hurricane season. “We’ve sent alerts about suspicious vehicles or people in the area, allowing us to engage everyone on campus and throughout the surrounding community to help keep an eye out and protect our students.”

Additionally, Bunse says the school was able to communicate important health information and updates about the swine flu in the spring. 

“Beyond urgent situations, the Blackboard Connect platform is an efficient way to send proactive messages,” she wrote. “As we’re preparing for the new school year, we can send enrollment reminders and announce open house activities and parent-teacher meetings to select schools and groups as needed.”

Bunse praises the solution for providing HISD with the ability to communicate with students, parents, and teachers via their preferred medium. “Whether they’ve selected messages to be sent to their home or cell phones, voicemail, email, SMS, or all of the above,” she wrote, “they know they’re sure to get the message.”

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