New emergency alert system uses text messages, e-mail to contact students

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August 26, 2007

10:53 AM

The College signed a contract with NTI Group Inc. for an emergency alert system that will be implemented this fall. The Connect-ED system, which cost between $20,000 and $22,000, allows members of the College’s emergency action team to contact students, faculty and other College employees by cell phone calls, text messages and e-mails instantaneously.

p. “We demonstrated the system to [local] press and [their cell phones] rang immediately,” Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler said. “One woman literally jumped out of her chair.”

p. Sadler, who chairs the emergency management team, and others including Vice President Anna Martin, members of the IT staff and Campus Police Chief Don Challis, began looking for a new method of communication last January while reviewing emergency protocol.

p. According to Tina Coleman of IT services, members of the College’s Emergency Team are able to access the Connect-ED system online, where they can select message recipients, record and type the actual message and choose a time for message distribution. After completing these steps, the system immediately transmits voicemail and text messages to e-mails and cell phones.

p. The system can hold up to six phone numbers and two e-mail addresses per individual.

p. “[It] adds a great deal to our ability to communicate,” Sadler said. “No more waiting for three hours for my e-mail.”

p. Sadler said he believes that the Connect-ED system is a vast improvement over the previous method of sending mass e-mails. While e-mails sometimes take several hours to reach students, Sadler said the new system allows for instant communication.

p. “Students can feel assured if there is a true emergency, [they] will get immediate notice,” he said.

p. Many campuses across the nation have begun to review their emergency protocol measures since the shootings at Virginia Tech last April.

p. According to a July press release, Tech adopted a similar program through 3n (National Notification Network) that will send text messages to mobile devices, voicemails to cell phones, e-mails and instant messages. Tech plans on using the system for emergency messages and weather-closing information.

p. Sadler and Coleman both said that the College’s Connect-ED system will be used only for emergency messages.

p. “An emergency can be defined as any situation that is a threat of injury or harm to the campus community or inclement weather that may result in a College closing,” Coleman said.

p. Sadler agreed. “It is intended to be used only when we go into emergency mode,” he said.

p. Challis said that after a request for proposals from companies was submitted, the team looked at the companies’ backgrounds and ensured that their primary concern is sending emergency information. He said that the NTI Group Inc., which has a history of working with schools, best fits the College.

p. Sadler also said that he felt the Connect-ED system was a good program for the College.

p. He was impressed by the system’s response time and its ability to simultaneously send voicemail and text messages.

p. In addition, the system has follow-up capabilities to check and see which numbers and e-mail addresses the messages could not reach.

p. Coleman added that the system has the capability of sending two million messages per hour.

p. “The likelihood that we are not able to get through to students is pretty slim,” Sadler said.

p. Sadler added that early after students return for fall semester, the College will run drills of the system for everyone. He said it is important to give students a sense of what the new system is like.

p. Students will be able to enter contact information into Banner by the beginning of the semester.

p. Sadler encouraged students to keep the College updated with contact numbers, which the College will only use in the event of an emergency.

p. “Anytime we improve communication it contributes to safe conditions,” he said.

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