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University tests emergency alert system after upgrades

By Jack Turman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 2, 2014

The University ran tests on Blackboard Connect, its new software for emergency alerts, on Jan. 31. The emergency alert system sends text, voice and e-mail messages to students, faculty and staff when University Police believe that the majority of students need to take immediate action to ensure safety.

The University is also testing the new system’s capacity to ensure productivity in any situation. The goal of the new system is to provide campus safety efficiently comprehensively.

Diane Brown, spokeswoman for the University department of public safety, said Blackboard Connect might have additional future benefits to the University community.

“We anticipate in the near future, we might also be able to add some additional enhancements to the system because of the Blackboard software,” Brown said.

While she emphasized that University Police don’t exactly know what other capabilities it might use from the software, the hope is that students, faculty and staff could be able to register more than two devices. Currently, students, faculty and staff are limited to register two devices because more than two devices overload the University system.

The University switched vendors from Everbridge, a mass communication platform, to Blackboard Conenct for the increased speed, as well as they ability to send messages through multiple forms of communication. Previously, Everbridge was only equipped to send text and voice messages.

While the new software has its advantages, Brown said there are challenges to the emergency alert system.

Because of the quick and accessible forms of communication, she said students might not take to heart the serious nature of emergency situations.

“We want to be careful that we don’t saturate the emergency alert system so frequently and people don’t pay any attention to it,” Brown said.

Though the software changed, she explained that there will be no difference in how recipients can register devices or view messages.

“You can still register for text message or voice message via Wolverine Access,” Brown said. “Everybody will get an e-mail. Information will appear on the police website and the University Gateway.”

Brown added that this software does not pertain to crime alerts, which are sent through e-mail and posts on the police website. In addition, emergency alerts would include events like a tornado warning, a report of a shooter on the loose or a large hazardous or chemical spill that affects multiple buildings around the University.

The last emergency alert that students received was on Aug. 28, 2013 when there was a gas main break at Michigan Stadium at 10 a.m. The system notified students that the intersection reopened at 12:20 p.m.

The University isn’t the only college in Michigan that uses this software to relay emergency alerts to its students. Michigan State University uses Blackboard Connect to send text, e-mails and phone calls to its community.

Eastern Michigan University’s emergency alert system is based off of public addresses, text messages and e-mails. EMU also utilizes outdoor and indoor speakers that are only activated when there is an immediate effect.

Mark Wesley, emergency management director for EMU, said only certain parts of its notification system are activated depending on the event. For example, during the polar vortex this past month, EMU used its notification system for weather-related emergencies.

“We don’t use all the systems for those notifications,” Wesley said. “We’ll do the campus e-mails and text messages for those types of events.”

Susan Smith, associate professor at Indiana University and the associate editor of The International Journal of Emergency Management, described that more university emergency alert systems were implemented after the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.

“Universities started to more systematically look at ways to alert students and that’s when they put in abort systems that will help either text you or send you a telephone response or e-mail,” Smith said.

Because many universities across the nation now have emergency alert systems, Smith said universities have to periodically test their system to ensure that all facets of the system are efficient and effective.


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