All full- and part-time undergraduates at the College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering and the Eastman School of Music will participate in the pilot program of the new AlertUR emergency notification system. AlertUR directly informs students of a crisis by sending text messages, voice messages and e-mails to their personal electronic devices.

In addition to the University-assigned e-mail addresses that are automatically registered, students can enter cell phone numbers, landline numbers and additional e-mail addresses on the Web site using their netIDs and passwords to log in. Other preference options include choosing between receiving a text message or a voice message for the device entered.

In the event of an emergency, students will receive a message that explains the type of concern, the location of the event and instructions on how to lower risk. Security will activate AlertUR when there is a serious threat that warrants rapid communication. This includes, but is not limited to, in-progress police emergencies, acts of terrorism, fires, release of hazardous materials, pending natural disasters and critical health emergencies.

While the University will not charge for the service, certain wireless carriers may charge a nominal fee for those who receive the Short Message Service text messages.

“We’re starting with the undergraduates because they are the most mobile,” Mauldin said.

The first test of the notification system will occur in April for undergraduate students and Eastman students. According to UR Director of Environmental Health and Safety Mark Cavanaugh, students will be notified of the date and time the test will be conducted. Following this initial test, students can expect one test message per semester.

The second phase of the program will broaden the database to encompass graduate students and faculty and staff members.

“Our goal is to have phase two operational by the end of this summer,” Cavanaugh said. This time line, however, is contingent on the results of the undergraduate student test.

Every two months, a new group of 4,000 to 5,000 people will be added to the system.

“The system is certainly large enough to accommodate not just students but also faculty and staff,” Mauldin said.

The Mass Notification Committee started from the basics of finding a vendor and creating the user interface in the fall semester. By the spring semester, it was developing the Web site and determining how messages would be sent.

Students actively participated in the development process by providing feedback and testing features of the system before the pilot program was implemented. Planning to implement AlertUR began late last summer. As the student representative of the Mass Notification Committee, senior Michael Koskulics facilitated communication between the committee and student government.

“I frequently shared information about the system with other members of student government to get a broader range of feedback and input,” Koskulics said.

About 20 members of student government tested the system, representing both the River Campus and the Eastman Campus. Initially, students assessed the Web site’s user interface. Later, the actual messaging system was tested.

Despite a few adjustments to the Web site aesthetics, the tests were successful.

“From the feedback I got, the two tests we did went well, except for a minor problem during the first test that was resolved for the second test,” Koskulics said.

The success of the pilot program relies partly on the cooperation of the student body.

“I think the success of the April test is very much dependent on students taking initiative and entering the numbers and methods in which they would like to be contacted,” Assistant Director of Student Activities Laura Ballou said.

AlertUR is a new addition to the emergency communications already in place. Mauldin described the need to notify students in real time in an emergency situation when he was asked about violence at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University.

“In both cases, suspects showed up with no prior warning. It’s important to keep aware of [the] notification system so people can intervene,” Mauldin said.

Other methods the University utilizes include its telephone hotline, department and school telephone trees, blast and targeted e-mail messages, pager and public address systems, voicemails, direct contact by runners and couriers, various Web notices and security alerts.

While the issue of notifying parents and family members has been discussed, the primary focus of the current AlertUR system is to notify the University community. After the initial phases have been completed, an evaluation of the system will determine whether the program can be expanded. In critical situations, information can be found at the University’s emergency Web site.

Sanehira is a member of the class of 2011.

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