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Photo courtesy of Allard Ward Architects

YMCA's App Investment

​“Strengthening communities is our cause,” states the national YMCA on its “About Us” page. For the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, this strengthening is partly achieved through teaching its employees that everyone in the organization is responsible for the safety of its clients and facilities.

“We normally don’t hire contract security unless there’s a special event,” notes Charles Robinson, associate safety director at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee. He adds that there are certain locations where past incidents have led to hiring third-party security, but for the most part, employees are responsible for spotting potential problems. 

That strategy makes the YMCA’s emergency response plans even more critical, because they tell employees how to react in the event of an emergency, which could be anything from an evacuation to a lockdown. 

In January 2014, the organization rolled out an application-based version of its plans through the Safety Center app, a one-stop-shop for emergency planning and reporting made by FacilityDude. The YMCA was already using several of FacilityDude’s offerings for facility management when the company approached Robinson about its Safety Center product in October 2014. 

The application for smart devices allows an organization to enter its emergency response plans in a customizable format. Employees can then view all the emergency planning information across an organization’s facilities, including what to do in case of a power outage, severe weather, lockdown, emergency evacuation, or other situation. The YMCA conducted a three-month testing phase starting in October 2014, then rolled out the app across the organization in January of 2015.

Robinson gives an example of why the decision to house those plans on an app was worthwhile. Right after investing in the app and going into a testing phase, he had just printed $14,000 worth of paper-based emergency response plans for his organi­zation. That same day, a senior leader announced he was retiring. Without the app, the plan would have needed to be reprinted to be considered current. 

“That really right there was our return on investment from day one, because I was able to go into the application, update the plan, send out the update, and everybody had the most current piece of information,” Robinson tells Security Management. He says there weren’t any issues to be worked through during the testing phase, but employees gave great feedback during this time period. “While testing Safety Center, our employees conveyed that they were more likely to review safety plans and procedures on their mobile phones versus flip charts,” he said.

The YMCA of Middle Tennessee has several facilities throughout the region, making coordination problematic. Rob­inson notes that the app helps keep everyone in the loop across the organization’s many locations. 

For example, if there is a power outage, a user can report it through the app by filling out a short text field and an incident report form, which includes the date, time, location, and type of outage. Once the user hits “send,” Robinson and the appropriate vice president of operations receive an e-mail at their work addresses informing them of the issue. 

Under state building codes, Robinson notes that they have 45 to 60 minutes to decide whether to close the location. In the past, a series of phone calls up the chain of command would have to happen before the outage was reported to the leadership, costing precious time. But now, “with the push of a button, everybody that needs to be involved in the decision making gets that e-mail, is already aware of it,” Robinson says. “The location executive only has one phone call to make, and that would be their direct supervisor, just making sure that the message went through and getting advice from them.” 

The YMCA has a risk committee made up of different leadership positions throughout the association, as well as a legal team, that meets once a quarter. They discuss any changes to the emergency plans, which Robinson says can easily be added to the app. From a password-protected Web portal, he can make changes and send out push notifications to users that there is an update. 

Once the app is set up by an organization, FacilityDude makes it available on both the Apple App Store and Google Play for download. The app can either be made publicly available or downloadable only to those with a password. The YMCA decided to password-protect its app, and FacilityDude helped the YCMA create a one-page PDF document to disseminate information about Safety Center to all of its workers.  

Employees who have company-owned devices are required to download the app, as well as anyone at a manager- level or higher. For the rest of the company, the YMCA held a series of short informal webinars to explain more about the app. The company also does an annual refresher video course on company policies and procedures, and information about Safety Center is included. Robinson notes that many employees go ahead and download the app because they’re curious to see what it entails. 

The YMCA hasn’t had to use the app for any emergencies since it was rolled out, but in the event that the plans are needed, Robinson says easy access is a must. “When you’re working with a paper-based copy you either have to be at your physical location to look at it, or you have to rely on someone to provide that to you,” he notes. “This gives employees the ability to go out and get the information on their own.”

For more information: FacilityDude, [email protected],; 866/455-3833