UI to test emergency text system

By Rachel Small

Police responded to a bomb threat at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill on Sunday evening, but it took a bit longer for students signed up for UNC’s text messaging system to find out about the scare.

The slow response has left Illinois students wondering about the quality of the new University emergency text messaging system, Illini-Alert, which will be tested 10 a.m. today, said Todd Short, director of the University’s office of campus emergency planning.

Orange County 911 received a call between 8:45 p.m. and 9 p.m. Sunday from a man threatening to detonate an explosive device near a courtyard known as the Pit on the north side of campus. The area was evacuated and searched, and the all-clear was given at 5 a.m. Monday, according to The Daily Tar Heel, the student newspaper at UNC.

The Alert Carolina system was not updated until nearly 11 p.m., however, and students subscribing to UNC’s text message notification system did not receive messages until about 11:45 p.m., according to UNC.

The University of Illinois employs a text messaging system similar to UNC’s, but Short said text messaging is just one of nine systems that would be used to alert students to an emergency on the University campus.

“One thing everybody needs to keep in mind about emergency notification systems is that you need more than one,” Short said, adding that not everyone has a cell phone with text messaging capabilities.

Short said the office would use its discretion to implement a particular notification system, but said he did not think it would take the University as long as it took UNC to inform its students about a similar threat.

“We could send out a mass mail to the campus in minutes,” he said. “We can do an emergency alert system for Champaign County in minutes.”

Subscribers should receive a test message Tuesday morning. Short said the test will help his office assess its ability to communicate information about emergencies to students.