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Emergency Notifications for Schools: A 4-Step Clery Act Compliance Plan for Educational Institutions

Emergency Notifications for Schools: A 4-Step Clery Act Compliance Plan for Educational Institutions

Choosing a college is a major life decision for students and families. There are many factors to consider, from financing and geographic location to academic programming and career services. Yet perhaps more important than all of those factors is the issue of campus safety. Does a college or university have adequate mechanisms in place to respond to threats and crime on campus?

Each educational ecosystem is different, and no single approach can solve crime on campus. However, awareness and reporting is an important step in addressing a multitude of safety concerns. Compliance with The Clery Act is part of this effort for colleges and universities.

The History Of The Clery Act

The Clery Act is a federal statute from 1990. Since its implementation, colleges and universities have been required to report crime statistics to campus and surrounding communities. The requirements were added to the Higher Education Act of 1965. They were implemented after a young student, Jeanne Clery, was raped and murdered on campus at Lehigh University. Her attack was one of several that happened on the campus over the span of a few years, and her parents argued that had they known the crime statistics, they would not have sent their daughter to the campus. They sued the university and were awarded $2 million.

In recent years, several additions have been made to The Clery Act, particularly around timely warnings and emergency notifications. The Department of Education published The Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting in 2016.

Clery Act Emergency Notification: What Constitutes An Emergency?

The Clery Act requires that institutions “have and disclose emergency response and evacuation procedures that would be used in response to a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees occurring on the campus.” In short, universities must have an emergency notification plan, test it, evaluate it, and publicize it.

According to the act, emergency situations include circumstances like:

  • A meningitis outbreak
  • A pandemic or serious illness outbreak
  • A hurricane
  • A tornado
  • An earthquake
  • A terrorist incident
  • An active shooter
  • A gas leak
  • A bomb threat
  • An explosion
  • Rioting or civil unrest

Timely Warning Vs. Emergency Notification

The Clery Act has a requirement for timely warnings. A timely warning allows individuals to protect themselves from the ensuing threat, and should reasonably be expected to reach the entire community. Timely warning issuance is decided on a case-by-case basis.

To differentiate a timely warning vs. an emergency notification, the Handbook clarifies the following:

Timely Warning Emergency Notification
Scope Narrower focus on Clery Act crimes - must reach the entire campus Wide focus on any significant emergency or dangerous situation
Why Triggered by crimes that have already occurred but represent an ongoing threat. Issue for all Clery Act crimes reported to campus security authorities or local law enforcement agencies, and that are considered to represent a serious or continuing threat to students and employees Triggered by an event that is currently occurring on or imminently threatening the campus. Initiate emergency notification procedures for any significant emergency or dangerous situation occurring on the campus involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of students or employees.
Where Anywhere in your Clery Act geography (can be in the campus’s extended community) Situations that occur directly on campus
When Initiate when pertinent information becomes available Initiate immediately upon confirming that a dangerous situation or emergency exists or threatens

Plan For Clery Act Compliance With Notifications and Alerts

When it comes to Clery Act compliance and emergency notification, you need a robust plan in place. To construct your strategy, take the following steps:

  1. Form An Evaluation Team - Emergency notification and complying with the Clery Act requires a sustained, multi-person effort. Incorporate the expertise of administrators, legal advisors, and practitioners from across your campus and your community to ensure you’re meeting all requirements.
  2. Define Your Parameters - A large part of the Clery Act revolves around defining the geography of your campus and where the Clery Act applies. You need to have a full understanding of these parameters in order to create adequate emergency alert systems that reach everywhere within your geography.
  3. Document Your Policies - the Clery Act requires an annual security report, so you must document your policies and procedures. Define key personnel and your entire mass notification operation. Clearly define the who, what, when, where, and why of all notification scenarios.
  4. Test Your Policies - Once your policies are in place, you have to implement and test them. Conduct drills, build in wellness checks, and follow your procedures, noting where you can improve. Consider factors like the ease of dissemination of information. Change and revise as needed.


Following best practices for compliance will help you create visibility around threats and reporting crime on campus. It is very important that you have plans in place for timely warnings and emergency notifications. It is not enough to document them, but you should also rigorously test and improve them. A crisis communication platform can help you disseminate alerts and trigger response mechanisms.

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