Starting Monday, the Department of Public Safety will be able to issue text messages to University students and employees to alert them of a campus emergency, DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown said at a Michigan Student Assembly meeting last night.
If all goes according to plan, the service will notify those who enroll of emergencies on campus within minutes, she said.
Brown said the alert system will not replace crime alerts, which are sent out via e-mail and appear on the DPS website when potentially dangerous crimes are committed on or near campus. The text messages, she said, would only be sent under three circumstances: if a chemically hazardous material broke out on campus, if a tornado was projected to hit campus or if a shooter was loose on campus.
The University began considering such an alert system after Virginia Tech’s campus shooting in April 2007, in which 31 students were killed.
MSA President Mohammad Dar said he thinks the system, called the UM Emergency Alert System, is necessary for the University’s campus.
“The world, especially on college campuses, has changed in the last few years,” Dar said. “It is important that we be proactive with safety concerns.”
University students and employees will be able to sign up for the UM Emergency Alert System starting Monday by entering their mobile phone numbers into Wolverine Access. The numbers will be housed confidentially at the University and can be removed from the system at a later time, Brown said.
The text messages will include the time, date and subject of the alert, with brief precautionary instructions. DPS won’t use abbreviation conventions common to the medium, out of fear that older recipients would not understand them.
Brown said that the text messages should reach students and employees in minutes while e-mail messages take between one to two hours, but other traffic on the phone and e-mail message systems at the University could be slowed because of the immense load of the alert system.
Brown said she didn’t know exactly how much the University will pay for the service, but described it as “six figures.”
During the meeting, Brown said there hasn’t been an occasion in her nine years working for DPS in which the emergency alert system would have been used.
When someone asked whether the alert would have been used in January, when a University student fatally shot a home intruder near campus, she said no.
The University came under fire for its slow notification process following the shooting. After that incident, DPS sent out a campuswide e-mail message, which took 10 hours to reach some students and never reached others.
Information Technology Central Services has whittled that time down to about two hours now, Brown said. These messages will continue to be sent out to all University students, faculty and staff.
Dar said he advocates sending a campus-wide e-mail announcing the service and explaining how to sign up.
DPS has signed a one-year contract with 3n, an international provider of mass notification systems, to provide the service. The University chose the company, Brown said, because it’s the only one equipped to handle the 73,000 people affiliated with the University who are eligible to sign up. 3n has an agreement with the major United States cell phone carriers, giving their emergency text messages priority over other messages on the networks.