BY ELAINE LAFAY
Daily Staff Reporter
Published January 24, 2008
Correction appended: The article previously said that students living in residence halls near the shooting received e-mail alerts from Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown at 10 a.m. last Thursday. Brown sent e-mail alerts to those students at 1:27 a.m. that day.
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Last Thursday, a day after an Ypsilanti man was fatally shot less than a mile from North Campus with the prime suspect a University student, many on campus had no clue that anything out of the ordinary had taken place.
Police have called off the search for the student, Engineering undergraduate Andrew Myrick, ruling the shooting justifiable because Myrick acted in self-defense. But the late e-mails could have spelled danger had the incident posed an immediate threat to campus security.
Department of Public Safety spokeswoman Diane Brown sent out the first crime alert Thursday at 1:27 a.m., about four hours after the homicide occurred. Recipients included members of the media, department heads, individuals who had signed up to receive alerts from the DPS website and University residents who lived near the location of the homicide - Baits Houses, Bursley Hall and Northwood Housing.
Brown then sent a mass e-mail message Thursday at noon to the entire campus of 72,000 University affiliates - a message that took as many as 10 hours to reach some recipients. Those who received the message later than others were left wondering why their e-mails came so late or left unaware of the shooting until then.
With a large database like University's, mass e-mails routinely take up to 10 hours to reach all the recipients. One reason the process takes so long is that University administrators must sign off on the crime alerts before they can be sent to the entire campus. That process can take hours.
Slow technology was the other reason for the delayed alert.
Alan Levy, communications manager for Information Technology Central Services, said the University uses a mass e-mail system designed for non-emergency messages, which can slow the messages down.
"Routine messages are designed for traffic flow, so they move through the system as expeditiously as possible without interfering in other traffic," he said.
Tom O'Leary, vice president of sales in North America for GroupMail, an e-mail software company, said there is no clear answer for how quickly e-mails can be sent out to a large group of people.
"There are so many factors involved, like size message, server capacity, Internet connection rate and anti-virus software," he said.
For 72,000 people on one server, he said, "10 hours sounds about right."
Laura Quinn, director of Idealware, a company that reviews software, said spam prevention software might slow the message's flow. But even if that were the case, Quinn said, the amount of time it took for the emergency alert to reach all of campus still seemed long.
"Ten hours, even for such a large database, does seem like a long time," Quinn said.
Levy agreed, saying that the University needs carefully craft mass e-mails so they're not filtered as spam. The way the University sends mass e-mails is standard, but after last week's incident, he said, there will be discussions about making the process much quicker.
He said emergency e-mails could be sent out more quickly if the University uses different protocols like expatiating emergency e-mails using upgraded software.
"The University has excellent email infrastructure," he said. "The issue in terms of the delivery of the mass email last week had to do with the specific way in which it was sent out."