Emergency text system registration skyrocketing

By Ebonique Wool

In an emergency situation at the University, the emergency notification system’s purpose is to help inform students of any information pertinent to the emergency by sending a text message to students’ mobile phones.

After the Feb. 14 shooting at NIU, the University’s text message emergency notification system saw a notable spike in registration.

As of Friday, Feb. 22, 45 percent of students were registered for emergency messaging, compared to 26 percent before the shooting.

“The day before the incident we had 11 people sign up, the day of we had 475 people, and the day after we had 1,976,” said Robin Kaler, spokeswoman for the University.

The system was highly publicized following the April 2007 Virginia Tech shootings.

Katie Waskevich, sophomore in Engineering, said she registered with the Emergency Alert System last year with Virginia Tech in mind.

“Overall I think it’s a very good idea,” Waskevich said. “It’s the best way to get in touch with people.”

Though there has been a notable increase in the number of students registered, different colleges show varying numbers of students registered.

Kaler said the graduate school of Library and Information Science had the highest amount of students registered with 63 percent, and coming in second was the College of Communications at 62 percent.

The colleges with the lowest percentages were the College of Law at 25 percent and Veterinary Medicine at 23 percent.

Alice McCormack, junior in Business, said she has chosen not to sign up with the emergency text system yet.

“I think it’s a good idea, I just haven’t done it and I’m not sure if I’m going to,” McCormack said.

She said she does not think the process of signing up would be difficult, but does not feel it is necessary to sign up with the system to be informed in the case of an emergency.

“I feel like word of mouth gets pretty far,” McCormack said.

In the case of an emergency, the message goes through a verification process before it is sent out and can only be sent by a select few people.

“In most cases it’s the police (who will send a message) because they know about the incident first,” Kaler said. “The public affairs office has the capability to do it and the chancellor’s office and the provost.”

With the police, the executive director of public safety, the chief of police, the assistant chief and lieutenants have the ability to send an emergency text message.

“The first question we have to answer is, ‘Do we have enough information for the system to be useful?’,” said Mark Briggs, risk manager for the University. “We don’t want to send out inaccurate or incomplete information. If someone were to call in to our office saying there’s a shooter on the Quad, we would have to verify if that was correct.”

There is no set response for an emergency, said Briggs. The message sent will depend on the situation at the time.

“An incident such as NIU can be handled a variety of different ways,” he said. “A shooter high up on a building shooting down at people, you want to keep them in the building. (With) a shooter on a building, you want students to find an area of safety. It all depends on the situation.”

The University Police determine if a message should be sent based on the situation, and what that message should be.

Briggs said he believes the emergency text system can be a useful tool in aiding students at the University.

“We need for every student and faculty member to sign up,” Briggs said. “The more individual’s contact we have, the more potential value of the system.”