Campus police encourage new text message alert system

By Stephanie Gomes

The University Police Department continues to urge all students to sign up for the new text message emergency notification system. As of February, only 23 percent of the student body have activated an account.

“The biggest thing right now is getting as many people as possible to register,” said Mark Briggs, University crime prevention coordinator.

The emergency notification system, which gained urgency after the Virginia Tech massacre, is intended to warn faculty, staff and students of emergencies on campus.

Whitney Kriz, sophomore in Communications, said she signed up at the beginning of the year.

“After what happened with Virginia Tech, I knew I needed to sign up,” she said. “I think people don’t realize how important it is.”

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    The emergency notification system is a software solution that allows the University police to use a database of text message addresses and e-mail addresses to contact faculty, staff and students. In an emergency situation, e-mails will be sent to the student body and text messages will be sent to those who registered to receive them, Briggs said.

    The system passed a series of tests in December without any difficulties.

    “It wasn’t a perfect fit initially, but CITES (Campus Information Technologies and Information Services) worked extremely hard on working all of those bugs out to make sure it would work right when we needed it,” Briggs said.

    The Division of Campus Risk Management is working with the University to get more students to sign up.

    Posters have been placed around campus and announcements were put on E-Week, a Web site for electrionic announcements, said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor and director of public affairs.

    Table-top advertisements will be put on dining hall tables later this month.

    Briggs said they are also looking to include information about the system when students register for classes online. He said students would see the screen, but would not have to register.

    “We would always like to have more students sign up,” Kaler said. “But this is a piece of a bigger puzzle.”

    However, not everyone wants to be reached by text messages and not all students can be reached by text messages. E-mails, phone call trees to departments and the local media will be other ways of reaching people on campus in an emergency, she said.

    “We will never hit 100 percent because 100 percent of the students don’t have text message capabilities,” Briggs said.

    Briggs said the Division Risk Management was questioned as to why the system was not used to notify students about the attempted sexual assault on Dec. 14.

    “Any time you put a program like this in place, you get criticism, and that’s OK,” he said.

    This system is intended only for life-threatening situations, which would impact a significant part of the campus population, he said.

    “If we start using the system too much, students will begin blocking the messages,” he added.

    He said the department will apply the “first do no harm approach” when using this system.

    “If there was a riot at Sixth and Green, and we send a message to thousand of students to stay away, everyone would go to the riot,” he said. “You have to be careful what information you provide and how you provide it.”

    The most difficult part is deciding when to use it, when not use it and what message to send out, Briggs said. Students’ information is secure on the system and the database will only be used for emergency purposes, he added.

    “We want students to know that when they see a text message with a UI emergency tag, they know this is something that demands their immediate attention,” he said.

    Stef Fantetti, sophomore in Communications, said she has not signed up for the emergency notification system.

    “I received an e-mail through my (sorority) house at the beginning of the year, but I just haven’t taken the time to do it yet,” she said.

    Briggs said he is not surprised by the students who are not yet registered.

    “(The University Police Department has) handcuffed ourselves because we preach not to give private information to anybody, then all of a sudden we’re asking to make an exception and give it to us,” Briggs said.

    He said students are worried about identify theft and are uncomfortable about giving private information away.

    “It’s a hurdle we have to overcome,” he said.