Clery Compliance Resources: Blog Articles

Timely Warning or Emergency Notification? Key Distinctions and Common Principles

JULY 08, 2019

The Clery Act requires two types of campus alerts—emergency notifications and timely warnings —to help keep students, staff, and faculty informed about threats to their safety and health. Failure to comply with Clery Act campus alert requirements can result in a hefty fine from the Department of Education (ED).

Learning to discern between the two alerts can help when developing your institution’s policies and procedures for Clery Act compliance. It’s also important to understand when and why each alert should be issued.

Emergency Notifications

Institutions must disclose emergency response and evacuation procedures that would be used in the event of a significant emergency or dangerous situation involving an immediate threat to the health or safety of the campus community. The ED provided these examples:

  • Approaching forest fire
  • Fire raging in a campus building
  • Outbreak of meningitis, norovirus, or other serious illness
  • Approaching tornado, hurricane, or other extreme weather conditions
  • Earthquake
  • Gas leak
  • Terrorist incident
  • Armed intruder
  • Bomb threat
  • Civil unrest or rioting
  • Explosion
  • Nearby chemical or hazardous waste spill

Timely Warnings

Institutions must issue a timely warning for Clery Act crimes that occur on their Clery Act geography that are reported to campus security or local police and are considered to represent a serious or continuing threat to students and employees.

ED guidance states that issuance of a timely warning must be decided on a case-by-case basis in light of all the facts surrounding a crime, including factors such as the:

  • Nature of the crime
  • Continuing danger to the campus community
  • Possible risk of compromising law enforcement reports

Key Distinctions

The ED’s Handbook for Campus Safety and Security Reporting describes the differences between an emergency notification and a timely warning, and provides sample scenarios to help you understand when it’s appropriate to use one or the other. The chart below helps sort out the differences.

  Emergency NotificationTimely Warning  
Scope Wide focus on any significant emergency or dangerous situation (may include Clery Act crimes) Narrow focus on only Clery Act crimes  
Why Triggered by an event that is 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. Triggered by crimes that have already occurred but represent an ongoing threat. Issue a timely warning for any Clery Act crime committed on your Clery Act geography that is reported to your campus security or local law enforcement, and that is considered to represent a serious or continuing threat to students and employees.
Where Applies to situations that occur on your campus   Applies to crimes that occur anywhere on your Clery Act geography  
When Initiate procedures immediately upon confirmation that a dangerous situation or emergency exists or threatens   Issue a warning as soon as pertinent information is available  


Common Principles 

While there are clear differences among emergency notifications and timely warnings, the National Association of College and University Attorneys (NACUA) recommends applying these principles when issuing both types of alerts: 

  1. Follow your policy. Failure to adhere to your own policy can result in liability.
  2. Act reasonably based on what you know. Decision-makers must strike a balance between issuing alerts as soon as possible and providing sufficient information.
  3. Make decisions on a case-by-case-basis. What is considered “timely” in one situation may differ in another.

For More Information

Check out United Educators’ (UE) Clery Compliance Toolset, an easy-to-use system for developing policies and procedures, logging incidents, and generating your annual security report.