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ND installs new alert system

Madeline Buckley | Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More than 20,000 text messages, voice-mails, and e-mails were successfully sent to students, faculty, and staff Friday afternoon as part of the University’s effort to set up a system of communication for an emergency.

The ND alert test was a response to problems that occurred in the previous test of the system, which took place in November, Chief Information Officer Gordon Wishon said.

“We specifically ran this test to see if the refinements we made had been effective,” Wishon said. “We don’t have all the results in yet, but the preliminary results look very good.”

After the first system test, OIT noted a delayed delivery of a number of the emergency e-mails, and students and faculty reported “garbled voice messages,” Wishon said. In the past months, OIT looked closely at these failures, and made the necessary changes.

To improve the delayed e-mails, OIT has worked with the system administrators and “made some changes in the way campus e-mail is delivered,” Wishon said. Before the campus-wide test, the department conducted some internal tests, all which indicated that the changes were effective.

As for the voice-mails, OIT discovered the source of the problems, and Wishon said there have been no reports of garbled messages. Of all the methods of communication, Wishon said text messaging worked best.

“Over 96 percent of all texts were delivered successfully,” Wishon said. “Our text messaging system keeps exceeding our expectations.”

The feedback from the students and faculty has been positive as well.

“I have been around campus and have heard from students that they received the messages and that they are thankful that the university is sending these messages,” Wishon said.

While the test was successful, OIT will continue to look for ways to build upon and improve the ND alert system, Wishon said.

“We continue to explore other means to get emergency notices out to the community,” he said. “Student safety is our number one concern.”

Currently, the University is developing a public address system in addition to the ND alerts. By December 2008, every building on campus will have a device installed which will allow the University to transmit a message on a loudspeaker to the inhabitants of the building in the event of an emergency, said Amy Coughlin, Director of Project Management.

“It is a public address system that utilizes the campus network to communicate an intended message,” she said. 

Presently, technicians are installing the devices in the residence halls, dining halls, and classrooms of South Quad before moving to other buildings on campus, Coughlin said. “The public address system will provide the University flexibility in communicating an urgent message to the campus community, whether related to weather or another hazard,” she said.

The University will be able to choose to send a message to a specific building or area, or alert the whole campus.

Every building will also have speakers on the exterior of the structure to alert students outside, and there will be speakers directed at athletic fields, the Warren Golf Course, and Stepan Center, she said. After the completion of the system, the University will schedule periodic testing, Coughlin said. The project is the joint effort of Business Operations, Risk Management and Safety, and OIT