University plans tests of new emergency alert system

By Paul Biasco

At 10 a.m. Tuesday, anyone browsing the University Web site will see a red pop-up message box on their screen in the first test of the Emergency Web Alert System.

The new system of emergency notification will add another medium on campus to notify students and faculty of any major emergency situation in the area. The University has been implementing new emergency notification systems for the past few years, including the emergency text messaging system, loud speakers on police cars, a telephone tree system in University buildings and mass e-mailing.

The Emergency Web Alert System will be tested at the same time as the monthly siren alert testing system. The pop-up is configured on most high-level Web pages within the and domains, including college and department home pages, the University library home page, express e-mail, UI Now, Compass and the 10 most hit sites on the domains, said University spokeswoman Robin Kaler. One of the reasons for the test is to work out any kinks in order for University webmasters to add the code for the system to their Web sites, Kaler added.

“We currently have several systems in place,” Kaler said. “(The Emergency Web Alert System) is something that we think could reach quite a few people.”

The University plans to test the system on the first Tuesday of each month through November with the goal of eventually having every campus Web page configured to display the emergency message, according to the Emergency Web Alert System information Web site.

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“(The University administrators) are doing their best, and I salute them for that,” said Jaclyn O’Day, student body president and senior in LAS. “The police are looking into several alternative ways other than the text messaging system. They are continually looking for new ways to notify campus.”

Kaler said the emergency notification systems will be used very sparingly and only when there is an imminent threat of death, great bodily harm or some sort of major emergency.

Several groups on campus comprise the Critical Incident Committee, which are authorized to initiate the emergency notification systems. The committee members include the Champaign and Urbana police departments, the University public affairs office and Campus Information Technology and Educational Services. It is important to have a lot of backup personnel who are authorized to initiate the system in case an emergency occurs, Kaler said.

“If we had some major thing happen we would use all of the tools that we have,” Kaler said. “The more messages we have to reach more people, the better off we will be.”

Although the Emergency Web Alert System is still in the testing phase, it is still functional and would be used if an emergency should arise, Kaler said.

University students have mixed opinions on the possible effectiveness of the new system.

“I think it’s a stupid idea, but I like the text messaging system,” said Kyle Mundhenke, junior in AHS. “What’s the chance that someone is going to be online at that exact time?”

Other students think the new system is a good idea.

“I think the more outlets the better to prevent attacks,” said Rob Chmielewski, senior in Business.