Correction appended: An earlier version of this article said that the Department of Public Safety tested the new alert system on March 31. The system was not fully tested, as it only involved text messages and did not include voice or e-mail messages.
Nearly 17,000 people have signed up to receive text messages since the Department of Public Safety introduced a new system designed to alert campus in the case of an emergency. About half of them are students, said DPS spokeswoman Diane Brown.
The University has sent messages to University students telling them how to sign up for the system, which has been in place for just over a month.
Brown said University officials are considering introducing the system to incoming freshmen during orientation. If that happens, incoming freshmen would be given the ability to sign up for the plan while registering for classes, she said.
With 20 percent of students enrolled in the program, the University’s enrollment falls below average for colleges using similar alert systems.
One company providing the service reports an average student enrollment of 39 percent, while another claims 28-percent participation. These two companies provide service to 800 American campuses.
Brown said she hopes the University’s enrollment among students will increase.
“We would hope that everyone would see the value in registering,” Brown said.
Students, faculty and staff can sign up for the system through Wolverine Access.
Some students reported having difficulty signing up for the system, prompting the University to adjust the website to make its instructions more clear. Enrolled users can edit their information or take their cell phone numbers out of the plan at any time, Brown said.
Colleges across the country were pressured to give more serious thought to text message alert plans about a year ago, after a shooter killed 32 students at Virginia Tech. In February, six Northern Illinois University students were gunned down in a lecture hall.
The issue picked up more attention locally in January when a botched robbery led to a fatal shooting less than a mile from North Campus involving a University student.
E-mails alerting students and University employees about the shooting took up to 10 hours to circulate throughout campus. Some students said they never received the message at all.
Brown said it’s still unclear how quickly the new system will get messages to students.
“We’re very interested to see what speed each of the various messages is,” Brown said.
During a presentation to the Michigan Student Assembly last month, Brown said the system would only be used in three cases: if a tornado could strike campus, if a major chemical spill occurred or if an active shooter was loose.
DPS tested the program March 31, sending messages to all who registered for the service.
If students who believe they signed up for the service didn’t receive that message, Brown said, it means that either the phone carrier didn’t send it or that the person didn’t fill out the right information on Wolverine Access.
When asked about the alert system, College of Engineering junior Mike McCrary said he had never heard of the service and probably wouldn’t sign up for it.
“I think I would find out what’s going on without getting a text message,” McCrary said.
Engineering senior Zane Salim received an e-mail about the alert system and signed up.
“It seemed like a good idea,” Salim said. “If something happens, I’d like to know.”
Salim said it was easy to sign up and that he received a confirmation text message a few days later. He said he’s glad the system would only be used under certain circumstances.
“You want people to take the system seriously,” Salim said. “They have to design it in such a way that’s not overdone.”
By the numbers
Percentages of students registered for text-message alert systems
15: University of Missouri-Columbia
20: University of Michigan
60: Virginia Tech
64: Princeton University