TXT-U service doesn’t alert all

Many small and regional cell phone providers can’t receive TXT-U alerts.

Last fall, the University introduced TXT-U, a free service that distributes emergency notifications to registered users via text message.

Third-year journalism and Spanish studies student Kevin Keen was among the first to sign up.

But after Keen returned to the University at the beginning of this semester from studying abroad, he still hasn’t received a single message.

“I figured I just didn’t get one because there hadn’t been anything huge to tell everyone,” he said. “There hadn’t been a building shutdown because of a bomb threat or something like that.”

In late January, Keen was with a friend who received a notification of a crime alert on campus – the third message sent since the system’s launch. Keen did not receive the message.

“I was kind of upset because I knew that I had done everything that you need to do to get the messages,” he said. “It’s a very simple process. I was confident that I did it correctly.”

After reporting the problem to the University, an emergency management representative informed Keen the problem was his Wisconsin-based cell phone provider, Cellcom.

At the same time his problem was being remedied, one of his co-workers was having the same problem with her prepaid T-Mobile plan, Keen said.

“If Cellcom, my service provider, and T-Mobile prepaid doesn’t work, then I’d imagine that there’s some other ones that other University students use that don’t work, as well,” he said.

Rori Kuhns, vice president of sales at Inspiron Logistics, the company that developed the University’s wireless emergency notification system, said many small and regional cell phone providers, such as Cellcom, can’t receive short message service messages – the primary delivery method for the notifications.

She said it’s common for prepaid services to be unable to receive messages as well.

“The small or regional ones, we find, just don’t have the bandwidth to go through all that larger process on their network yet,” she said.

Kuhns said this is “industry standard,” and after identifying a provider that can’t receive short message service messages, Inspiron Logistics can set up a different format of relaying the messages that is compatible with the service provider.

“It’s more of an e-mail rather than a text,” she said. “But they still get the message.”

However, in cases like Keen’s, the problem isn’t fixed unless the user identifies the problem.

Scott Dettling, president of Inspiron Logistics, said to prevent situations like Keen’s from happening, Inspiron Logistics has developed an additional component that can identify incompatible service providers during the signup process.

“Then we go ahead and manually put them into the system,” he said.

Dettling said this component virtually eliminates any possibility of users signing up and not being equipped to receive notifications.

“We’ve put every process in place to best quantify the number and user, to ensure that they can receive these messages,” he said. “But every once in a great while, a number will get through.”

If an incompatible number slips through, Dettling said, it would be because of incorrect data provided by the cell phone company. He estimated this happens one in every 100,000 sign-ups.

However, this safeguard component wasn’t implemented at the University until a couple weeks ago, said University spokesman Dan Wolter.

For people like Keen who signed up last semester, this method wasn’t put into place in the University system, and would not identify a provider as incompatible with TXT-U.

Wolter said emergency management might issue a system-wide test sometime this semester that would help identify incompatible providers, but he doesn’t think anything can be done to pinpoint people who have signed up and aren’t getting the messages.

“It’s not that we can just roll through a list,” he said. “There’s 13,000 people on there right now and it’s really just a list of phone numbers.”

Wolter said the University has been receiving three to four inquiries regarding TXT-U every week. He said he wasn’t sure of the nature of these inquiries.

He said most of the complaints are from T-Mobile users.

Wolter said three individuals’ cases are still pending, and “some of them possibly will not be resolved.”

He said he didn’t know the specifics of these cases.

Keen said he thinks the University should identify students who think they’re set up to receive the messages but aren’t.

“That’s the right thing to do, to make sure everyone gets the text messages,” he said. “They created them to keep people informed, because they wanted to get people to know what’s going on, and obviously it’s not doing that for everyone.”