UI text alert system nearly ready

By Angelina Cole

The University administration is bringing the testing phase of the emergency text message notification system to a close. As officials work to correct the errors and shortcomings of the text message system, police officers and administrators are urging students to register their cell phones and messaging devices on the University’s Internet database to receive text messages in future emergencies.

“The chancellor is committed, everyone on campus is committed, to only using this information in an emergency situation,” said Jeff Christensen, assistant chief of University police.

These emergency situations can range anywhere from a chemical spill to an active threat, Christensen said. Specific text message templates have been developed, so they can be sent rapidly should an emergency situation occur.

However, because of the way certain cell phone carriers are structured, the amount of time it takes to receive a message can vary.

“The purpose of testing is to validate the system and see what the flaws are,” Christensen said. “These need to be fixed or taken care of another way.”

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But not all problems with the text message portion of the Emergency/Event Notification system, or EEN, can be fixed by University administration.

“I don’t have text messaging on my phone,” said Jennifer Ernst, junior in LAS. Ernst hopes that the University will also contact professors via text messages in an emergency, and they will forward the message to students.

Christensen suggested that the use of Facebook and a recently created Web site pop-up as part of the system is being explored.

“The pop-up has just been developed and is only functional on uiuc.edu,” University spokeswoman Robin Kaler wrote in an e-mail interview. “We are finalizing the policy on it … once it’s on the most frequently hit Web sites, we’ll let folks on campus know about it.”

Kaler also said a large advertising campaign for the use of emergency text messages is underway and will be seen on the Quad and in residence halls “in the future.”

Privacy still remains one of the students’ biggest concerns, Christensen said.

“I totally understand the concern about protecting the privacy of one’s cell phone or whatever device they put in there,” Christensen said. “The campus is committed to respecting that those numbers are there for emergency notifications, and that’s what they’re to be used for.”