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Emergency texting alerts CU students of danger
Glancing at the Flatirons on a spring afternoon, it is hard to imagine a more peaceful campus. But what if that peace were interrupted? What if the University of Colorado were to face a crisis?
Unfortunately the statistics don’t make this thought too far fetched. Over fifteen schools have fallen victim to school shootings in just the past year. The most recent shock came this month in Oakland California.
So what are universities doing to plan for these emergencies? And are their plans effective?
The most recent trend in emergency technology is the adoption of emergency text messaging systems. Lacey Croco, CU’s Director of Emergency Management, has been an advocator for the use of the system on CU’s campus.
The mass notification system initiates and launches messages to all registered users without having to deal individually with each subsystem. The system was recently used by CU to alert students of an armed robbery occurring close to campus.
The system is so effective because it caters to the high school to college-aged demographic.
While it seems like the perfect platform for communication, it does have its flaws. In an article by John Bambenek and Agnieszka Klus in Educause Quarterly, "Do Emergency Text Message Systems Put Students in More Danger?", several problems with the technology are explained.
According to the article, crisis communication services must demonstrate several characteristics: extremely high reliability, excellent access control and high-speed delivery. These are qualities that cell phones do not always possess.
In the cases of Northern Illinois and Virginia Tech, text message systems did or could not have done anything in a fast enough manner to inform students of danger and remove them from campus before harm was done.
Often times a long list of obstacles must be overcome before an emergency text is approved. First, an incident of danger is reported. Next, the incident is reported to authorities or police. The incident is then determined as either a threat or no threat.
In the case of a threat, emergency calls are made. A message is created and then must be approved before being sent out. By the time these decisions are made the text can often be an hour or two after the incident was reported.
Croco stands by the system saying that in a recent chemical spill at CU, text messages were sent to all registered users (just over 30,000) in one to five minutes. However, she admits that there are instances where high activity with cell phones – like an emergency - could cause the system to work slower.
This is why Croco says, “we want to emphasize having redundant systems of contact.”
Having access to email, facebook, twitter and even an out-of-state contact will allow students to have more than one communication device should the cell phone fail.
According to Croco, every time an unfortunate event happens, CU tries to learn from it.
Croco says, “We are doing the best we can to provide students with the best technology we have now to keep them safe” – something that CU students can surely appreciate.