Administration considers text message alerts

By By Ana Breton and By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

A group of U students is urging the administration to implement a text message response system in case of an emergency situation such as a campus shooting.

The idea was inspired by the many campuses across the country that have already installed emergency text message systems after the tragedies at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University, said Austin Little, a senior in communication and a member of the group.

The students have been researching the response-plan system as part of a crisis communication class that started this semester. The class consists of six groups, each with a different project focusing on campus safety and emergency response. The groups will present their findings at the end of the month.

The text message response plan team has already received support from students outside of the class. The group they created on Facebook, a popular networking website, has 33 members.

“We felt since we use our phones so much, why not stay safe with them also?” said Reed LeSueur, a senior in communication.

Little said hopefully their plan will be put into effect at the U. In the meantime, the group is aiming to spread the word that the campus is in need of better crisis communication, Little said.

“We have to make the administration aware that crisis response is important,” he said. “We feel like we have a lot to say, and even if we have to go through Facebook or things like that, I think the administration will listen to students.”

Nina Hall, a sophomore in communication, was one of the group members in charge of looking at how text message response systems have worked at other universities. Hall said several colleges have implemented the system and seen success, including the University of Florida, the University of Texas and the University of Arizona.

However, Suzanne Horsley, a professor in the department of communication who teaches the course, said the text message emergency response plan has received mixed results.

“It’s good, but it has to work in conjunction with other communication channels,” she said. “It’s not a solution by itself.”

She said students at other campuses have been reluctant to sign up for emergency text messages because of the fear that they will be receiving advertisements instead of actual alerts.

“There has to be a strong education about what it will really be used for,” she said.

Law professor Wayne McCormack, head of the U Safety Task Force said the administration has considered implementing a text message emergency response plan but is hesitant because of concerns that the texting might jam up the phone system on campus and that the program might be too costly. He estimated the system would cost $80,000 per year.

“I don’t know the value of it because seeing other shooting instances, the incident will probably be over before any information goes out,” McCormack said.

McCormack said administrators in charge of campus safety are talking with two different vendors who provide the text messaging emergency service. He didn’t know if they would buy the system and said current methods of communication would be effective in case of an emergency.

“Word of mouth is so much faster than that,” he said. “Telephone, radio and the commercial media still exist, so what people need to know in case of an emergency goes through fairly rapid channels of communication.”

When asked what would happen if an emergency were to happen on campus today, such as a shooting, McCormack said, “I don’t know. That’s the short answer. In the past, we’ve (alerted students) with e-mails and a notice to the commercial media. Those seem to be the most rapid modes of communication.”

Students in the group disagree.

“Their plan might work, but with the text messaging system you can directly connect to your students,” LeSueur said. “There is not another way like that in my opinion.”

Themes in other groups include pedestrian safety, night safety and classroom communication devices. The devices one of the groups is investigating are phones that would connect each classroom with campus police and vice versa. The system is already implemented in colleges around the state, including Westminster College and Utah State University, Horsley said.

“The U is in the middle when it comes to campus safety,” Horsley said. “It’s not as proactive as some schools.”

The students will present their individual ideas to groups that deal with safety on campus, including the U Police Department and the administration. The presentations will take place April 23 in LNCO Room 1100 at 3 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

“I’m trying to be realistic,” Horsley said. “I don’t know what plans will get picked up, but hopefully the administrators will consider a part of the campaign.”

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