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Student Alerts Get Technical

After the April 16 Virginia Tech shootings that left 33 dead and 25 wounded, many universities have amped up their emergency alert notification systems.

A September 2007 study by the National Association of Attorneys General on the shootings brought to light many prevention- and response-related issues, which in turn sparked a revision of emergency plans and the implementation of crisis communication systems.

Virginia Tech began updating in fall 2006 and was in the last stages of vendor selections when the shootings took place.

There are many forms of emergency notification systems used on Virginia campuses today. Radford University is one of many schools that have increased their alert notification systems. RU has nine ways students can be notified in the event of any form of emergency.

  • RU Alert notification
  • Campus IP Telephone   Reverse Announcement System
  • RU Active Crawl Computer Messaging
  • Campus Siren and Verbal Notification System
  • Campus Signage System
  • Campus Cable Television Interrupt System
  • RU Website
  • WVRU Public Radio
  • Facebook

Many of these are used whether it is threat to the campus or an extreme emergency. Multiple communication systems help inform, educate and ease rumors.

Media tools such as newspapers, social networks, television and radio are a quick way to release information into each college community. This is similar to the nationwide Amber Alert system.

“These technologies are a great asset to emergency management by allowing for timely notifications of all persons signed up and save us time and resources,” said Radford University Office of Emergency Preparedness Emergency Coordinator Todd Branscome.

Virginia Tech’s emergency notification alert systems have many similarities to RU’s. In the event of an emergency, the primary aspect is to protect and inform the faculty, staff and student body.

Each university is equipped with a set of Emergency Notification System Protocols, designed to give emergency personnel guidelines to the lowest level of decision makers possible.

These emergency alert systems can let both commuters and residents know if there is an emergency before arriving on university property. They can contact the entire student body and faculty.

There is always a fear that technology may fail when it is needed most. Even though there has been extensive research and many hours have been put into each of these systems, nothing is flawless.

“I think it’s a good thing to have when they work correctly,” said senior Rebecca Hallett. “Sometimes I’ll get the texts from them, but it will only be half the message. … But overall I think it’s a good way to let the students of Radford know when something is wrong, or if there’s a school closing.”

Implementing new technology varies between campuses within the testing and configuring stages. After measures are taken to alter these systems to the particular needs of a specific campus, they are launched to distribute timely and accurate information.

Will this abundance of notification systems increase anxiety within the university’s student body?

“No. As a community we have a keen desire for information,” said Virginia Tech Director of Emergency Management Michael Mulhare. “We do not use them for events, only … in event of emergency. The challenge is to get the message into 140 characters.”

This desire for information is a main characteristic in daily life on a college campus and is tagged with a price that varies throughout each university.

The cost of notification systems can be determined by many features, such as user fees and yearly costs with advancement of technology.

Virginia Tech has spent a substantial amount on this technology. With technology constantly changing, there are always new things springing up. They are working on a possible future application for smartphones, as well as voice-over technology that will allow students to hear what is occurring in the event of an emergency.

Social media is a rapidly developing source of communication in which many universities are looking to distribute information via social networks such as Facebook, Twitter and other websites that are available to anyone who may or may not be linked to that university.

Many universities such as Virginia Tech encourage parents to stay informed about what is occurring on campus by encouraging parents to download VT Desktop Alerts.

According to a Nov. 2009 study by the TriData Division of the System Planning Corp. of Arlington, there were numerous problems in the way Virginia Tech responded on April 16.

Ultimately the hardest thing to do that day was to ensure that every person was safe. That resulted in new emergency alert technology, as well as future advancements, that will continue to improve to protect people on college campuses.




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