Alert siren fails to sound

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September 25, 2007

3:36 PM

__Emergency alert system test reaches 98 percent of registered users__

A test of the emergency alert system failed again yesterday when the campus alarm remained silent.

p. “You didn’t hear an alarm because the alarm didn’t work,” Vice President for Student Affairs Sam Sadler said. As of press time, a team of engineers from the alert company was exploring why the alarm had failed.

p. Other than the lack of an audible alarm, the test mostly succeeded. The regular College homepage was replaced with a message on the computer screen explaining that a test of the system was being conducted and that e-mails were sent out to all students, faculty and staff. According to Sadler, more people were successfully contacted this time. During this test, about 1.9 percent of registered numbers were not reached, including some students’ cell phones and at least one classroom phone in Morton.

p. When functioning, the alarms ring at 120 decibels, approximately as loud as a jet engine. One bank of alarms is located on top of the Integrated Science Center, currently under construction; the other is located at the law school, providing complete campus coverage. The Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point does not have a bank of alarms, although VIMS students and staff receive the phone message. Sadler said that the administration is looking into installing alarms on the VIMS campus.

p. “The irony of [the alarm failure] is they’re able to test the system in what they call silent mode, and they’ve tested it on several occasions since it was installed. Each time, it says it’s working normally,” Sadler said, adding that a silent test was successfully executed a half-hour before the actual test.

p. “So you can imagine everyone’s surprise when they pushed the button to activate it and nothing happened.” He added that a manual override was performed to check whether the horns were working. The test concluded that there was no physical problem with the horns.

p. Sadler said that once the alarm is fixed, another test will be conducted, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

p. The system costs approximately $20,000 per year to operate, regardless of the number of times it is used. College spokesman Brian Whitson said that the initial cost of the system was about $200,000.

p. “We’ve just got to keep working at this until we get it right. I’m sure there are plenty of people today who said, ‘Gosh, now I’m really concerned,’” Sadler said. “We need to alleviate that concern by showing them it can work, and we need to do that as fast as we can.”

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