WU launches mass alert system

Chris Nelson

Multiple tragedies have occurred across the country on or near university campuses, and Washburn is taking another step to ensure the safety of its students and faculty.

The iAlert emergency notification system is now available to faculty, students and parents to notify them in the event of a campus emergency. The system purchased by Washburn will notify participants as soon as possible in the event of an emergency or special situation, so they can take the proper precautions.

This new technology will send e-mail messages to Washburn accounts, and voice and text messages to telephone numbers entered by students at the designated site.

Dena Anson, university relations, said the iAlert system will only be used in serious emergency situations. There must be an immediate threat to life on campus for a notification through iAlert. The only other reason the system would be initiated is for campus closings because of inclement weather. Participants would be informed by text messages alone in these situations.

Anson said students may voluntarily sign up for the service free of charge, although standard text message rates apply, depending on wireless service. Students and faculty are responsible for signing up, as well as entering all of the correct, up-to-date contact information. They may enter land line telephone numbers or cell phone numbers. There is no limit to how many additional contact numbers students may enter to be notified during an emergency. Voice messages and text messages will be sent to wireless numbers and voice messages will be sent to land line numbers. Voice mails will be left if there is no answer.

In the event of an emergency, voice messages will also be sent automatically to all university extensions. Students living in the residence halls with a university land line will receive a phone call and a voice message will be left in case of no answer.

“This system will take prudent action to notify people of the danger so they can act accordingly,” said Anson.

The text and voice messages sent out will vary depending on the situation, but will offer a brief summary of the action people need to take. Those receiving a text message, voice message or e-mail can check the iAlert Web site for more detailed information. Messages will inform those students on campus to leave, and the rest not to come, depending on the specific situation. Anson said once a message has been sent out, ,the university will begin working closely with the media to get information out to the entire public.

Dean Forster, Washburn chief of police, said this is one tremendous step for the safety of Washburn’s faculty, staff and students. The police department will continue to send out timely notification e-mails, but iAlert will take every step possible to make sure all are aware of serious, emergency situations.

Washburn officials have always stepped up to the plate and spent the money needed for security and safety purposes, said Forster. The $20,000 project has been in the works for approximately nine months. The central location for iAlert will be located within Washburn University Police Department. It is up to Forster to decide whether a situation qualifies for students to be notified. He strongly encourages all students and faculty to sign up so they and their families can stay informed if this type of situation were to arise.

“I have children that go here and they’ll be signed up for it, too,” said Forster.

To learn more details on how to sign up for the iAlert service, visit www.washburn.edu/ialert, or call University Relations at 670-1154.

According to Anson, many universities are implementing emergency notification systems in response to the Clery Act, as well as violence, such as the Virginia Tech shootings.

The Clery Act is in memory of Lehigh University student Jeanne Ann Clery. She was raped and murdered inside her residence hall in 1986. After her death, it was realized students had not been informed of more than 38 violent crimes that had previously taken place on the campus. Her parents joined with other victims and persuaded Congress to enact this law. It has been amended in 1992, 1998, 2000 and, most recently, August 2008.

The amendment, signed by President Bush in August, requires institutions to report campus policies on immediate response and evacuation procedures and to immediately notify the campus community upon confirmation of an emergency situation or significant event. The amendment does not state how exactly students and faculty should be notified, but that it must be done immediately.