U looks to add on to alert technologies

The "U" already uses e-mails, text messages and radio-type systems for notifications in buildings.

Ahnalese Rushmann

The University’s recent launch of a text-messaging alert service is the third of four technologies the school is trying to implement to handle emergency situations.

The efforts are modeled after recommendations made by a Florida government task force last July, in the wake of last spring’s Virginia Tech shootings.

University Services spokesman Tim Busse said he was part of a working group that assessed current University capabilities and made recommendations for improvements.

“Instead of us reinventing the wheel, we just used that report as our basis,” he said.

Busse said University Police Chief Greg Hestness, chairman of the group, came across the Florida report, which listed specific suggestions.

“They said that the basics for any sort of adequate emergency communication should have four technologies,” Hestness said.

He said the University currently has three of them – e-mail and text-message notifications and a weather radio-type system in buildings – in place.

The fourth, a public-address system that would serve outdoor common areas, would work similar to weather-emergency sirens, Hestness said. The system would deliver clear, verbal messages.

Hestness said he estimated the University’s security plans are on par with other schools but have room for improvement. The campus’s size makes it a unique place to secure in emergency situations, he said.

While the public-address system project isn’t funded in the current budget, Hestness said he hoped money would be available in the 2009 fiscal-year budget.

The system would require at least 10 units at $25,000 per installation, he said.

Abdul Rashid Yusuf, a biochemistry sophomore, said the system doesn’t sound like a helpful tool.

“I think it’s a waste of money,” he said.

The effectiveness of a public address system would mainly depend on the amount of traffic in its given area, Yusuf added.

Hestness said the weather radio-type warning system wasn’t as effective as it could have been.

He said the radios, which allow warnings to be sent directly from police dispatch, had been in place systemwide for about five years but hadn’t been communication assets because people didn’t know how to use them.

“That program needed a lot better support than it was getting,” Hestness said.

He added that some radios weren’t working properly because of faulty programming, and some required new batteries.

Amber Esser, a University first-year student, said e-mail notifications and text messages are effective enough, and a public address-type system could just cause people to “freak out.”

“I feel like it could cause a lot of commotion,” she said.

Busse said he hoped people wouldn’t panic in a potential future situation.

“Our goal all along is to have as much redundancy as we possibly can in our communication systems,” Busse said.

The University aims to have as many tools as possible in case of a crisis, he said.

“If it ends up saving a life of two or three people or however small who aren’t connected via cell phone or laptop,” he said, “then I think it’s worthwhile.”