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BYU-Idaho Prepares for Emergencies with Campus-Wide Communications Test

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On February 23, 2023, Brigham Young University-Idaho completed a test of its emergency communications network. From texts and emails to digital signage and campus phone notifications, efforts to reach every on-campus student and employee were made as a dry run of what would really happen in an emergency situation.

Steve Bunnell, director of public safety at BYU-Idaho, said this was the first of three tests planned for 2023.

“The tests that we run are used to promote the safety of the campus community, and that is part of my responsibilities,” Bunnell said. “Not only am I concerned with the security of the buildings themselves, but also the safety of our students, faculty, staff, and any other patrons that may be on campus.”

The practice of holding emergency drills is based on a federal requirement. The 1990 Clery Act, signed into law by former president George H. W. Bush, states that all U.S. colleges and universities that accept federal student financial aid must have proper emergency communication procedures in place to alert students of an emergency event on campus.

“The regulation says that we have to use a method of communication that we reasonably believe will reach every student and employee,” Bunnell said.

Though the federal requirement only stipulates that the emergency test is completed annually, BYU-Idaho’s unique Three-Track System doesn’t allow for all students and employees to participate in just one test. Arnold Thiebaud, marketing and channel data manager at BYU-Idaho, said these tests help all students to be prepared for an emergency, no matter what track they’re on.

“By law, we're only supposed to do it once a year, but we do it three times a year so that we cover all the students,” he said. “With the Three-Track System, we want to make sure that we always capture people that come and go, so that they have an opportunity to be a part of that test as well.”

Nearly every student and employee at BYU-Idaho has registered an emergency phone number and email address registered to their BYU-Idaho account, so they can be contacted in the event of an emergency. These channels were used during the February test, reaching 20,769 email recipients and 18,663 cell phone contacts. As a way to determine the effectiveness of emergency texts and emails, recipients were asked to confirm that they had received the emergency test notification. The response was 1,046 email confirmations and 5,852 text confirmations within just 15 minutes.

With thousands of confirmation messages coming in within minutes of the test being activated, Bunnell said texts are a proven communication channel in letting students and employees know about an immediate emergency situation.

“The immediate ones that you need to know about now, we deliver those initially by text message, just because that seems to be the method that most people will get,” Bunnell said. “Our theory is that if you're in class and you haven't signed up to receive the emergency text messages, or your phone is on silent and you don't get it, somebody in that classroom will be monitoring their text messages.”

Though email is the most widely recognized form of campus communication, such as “Official Notice” emails, it’s not the fastest way to get an emergency message out. Bunnell said that in every emergency, even a few seconds can make a difference. The more channels used to reach students and employees, the better.

“It's just not always the case with the email,” Bunnell said. “We try to hit the fastest way to alert people that they will be monitoring, but we also want that message to be widespread. And that's why we use as many communication channels as we do.”

Other channels used in the emergency test included the Cisco phone system and the digital signage network. These TV screens in most major indoor intersections on campus normally share messages like upcoming events and academic deadlines. During the test, all 80 screens shared the same notice: “This is a test of the BYU-Idaho emergency communication system. Only a test. In the event of an emergency, additional information would be provided on” This message was also repeated as a banner on the university website.

During a real emergency, once the first message has been sent out notifying all contacts of the situation, members of the University Emergency Council (UEC) then coordinate to make sure relevant messages are prepared and sent to all affected groups, such as parents, civic leaders, and media organizations.

According to the most recent meeting of the UEC, the Winter 2023 Emergency Test was considered a success. However, students and employees can do more than participate in semesterly tests to be prepared for worst-case scenarios. Each semester, every student and employee should login to, visit their profile, and verify their emails and phone numbers are correct in the “Emergency (to contact you)” field.

Another way to prepare is to visit the I-Prepare website to learn more about what to do in case of an emergency. The I-Prepare website is a robust resource with information on how to respond to 12 different types of emergency situations. From flooding and active shooters to sexual assault and mental health, each scenario has step-by-step instructions of what to do if you find yourself in an emergency. Additionally, each scenario shares how you can help others.

For more information on emergency preparedness, visit You can also help by participating in the Spring 2023 Semester emergency test.