University needs better judgment using alert system

Much of the University was in the dark Sunday night. Residence Halls served cold meals, libraries were closed and the T.I. concert at Assembly Hall was canceled. Students were affected, but it is not a life-threatening situation.

Around 7 p.m. on Sunday, the University used its Illini Alert system to notify students of the outage. In fact, the University directed students to local media for updates. We were able to contact University officials, we received media alerts, and consequently, we were able to inform the people affected by the power outages of what was happening to their campus.

But there was another news event a few days ago that the University did not send an emergency alert about. Late Thursday night we were informed of a potential bomb threat at Pennsylvania Avenue Residence Hall. To be safe, a bomb squad was called after an officer found a suspicious piece of luggage. Mass Transit District buses were rerouted. Rooms near the hall’s entrance and the lobby were evacuated, but students gathered around the scene because they did not know what was happening.

Luckily, no one was hurt before the bomb squad came, and the luggage turned out to be harmless. That’s not to say the situation was controlled as it should have been.

Students weren’t informed about what was happening.

We could not get answers from people answering phones at the Urbana, University or Champaign County police departments. Attempts at gathering information were in vain as all three departments solely answered with “we don’t know.”

The students who were in PAR were told to stay in their rooms to wait to hear about what was happening. Everyone was in suspense and it could have been avoided – perhaps with an emergency alert.

A bomb threat seems to be much more worthy of an alert than a power outage. We understand the outage affects the entire campus, while the bomb threat was only pertinent to people in the area of PAR.

In hindsight, sending an emergency message to the entire campus may have made the situation more hectic than was necessary. But if the situation became more serious, those affected would’ve been uninformed of the situation.

It’s great that the University has created this system to notify students of emergencies. It has been tested and Sunday was an example of disseminating information when it is necessary.

But when sending out these messages, the University needs to decide what constitutes an emergency and what does not.