If a major chemical spill occurred on Central Campus, you’d think most people would want to know about it. And yet, according to the Department of Public Safety, only 17,000 people have signed up for the emergency text message alert system – a mere half of them students. While some of the apprehensiveness is understandable because the University made initial blunders in its implementation, nonetheless, this is an important effort that calls for far greater student participation. With the University working hard to address the lingering concerns on its end, it’s now up to students to embrace the program and allow it to take flight.
Nationally, text message alert systems began receiving serious attention following last year’s shooting at Virginia Tech. The tragedy, in which 32 people were killed, exposed serious concerns about students and faculty being unaware of dangerous situations on campus: Gunman Seung-Hui Cho took two hours between his rampages. During that time, many students knew nothing about the situation. Here at Michigan, similar flaws were exposed following the fatal shooting near North Campus at the beginning of winter semester. Although administrators sent out e-mails warning students of the crime, some of them took up to 10 hours to circulate.
In response to these concerns, the University launched a text message alert system about one month ago to ensure that students find out about emergency situations in a timely and efficient manner. Unfortunately, the program has had problems so far getting off the ground. According to a recent statement by DPS, only about 20 percent of students had signed up, compared to averages of 28 percent and 39 percent found by two different companies that provide the service to 800 campuses across the country.
Part of the blame falls on the University for mistakes made in setting up the program. The initial e-mail sent out by administrators, for example, led to an electronic labyrinth on Wolverine Access that made matters far more complicated than they should have been. Similarly, greater efforts could have been taken to spread the word about the new program on campus since many students simply didn’t understand what they were signing up for, and some hadn’t heard of the program at all. To its credit, the University has tried to resolve these issues, streamlining the sign-up process and sending another e-mail to students following these changes. More work may be needed, but you can’t blame the University for lack of effort.
A more pressing problem, however, seems to be student apathy. Whether the University has made things easy or not, 20 percent is an embarrassingly low figure for such an important program. While it’s easy to assume that it’s unnecessary, events in the last few years have proved otherwise. In case a mass shooting does occur at our university, no one will want to risk waiting 10 hours for a University e-mail to arrive. With roughly 90 percent of college students carrying cell phones, text messaging is an effective method for preventing greater disasters.
Some effort is still needed for this program to reach more of the student body. Without going to unnecessary lengths – like mandating enrollment – the recent proposal to introduce the system at freshman orientation is a good idea. In the meantime, responsibility falls on the current student body as well. The University is offering a program that could prevent a major tragedy without much effort from students. Typing your phone number into Wolverine Access isn’t difficult, and students must take the initiative before they regret it.