Tech influences College policy

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April 15, 2011

2:36 AM

Four years ago, college campuses across the country were impacted by the Virginia Tech shootings, and this Saturday marks the anniversary of the massacre. Since then, campuses nationwide have changed the way they handle emergency situations.

Virginia Tech was fined $55,000 March 29 for a failure to comply with the Cleary Act’s mandate to inform the campus of the emergency in a timely fashion.

“The Department of Education’s conclusion was that they didn’t follow their own policy and didn’t provide warning soon enough to the campus,” Vice President for Administration Anna Martin said.

Since the shootings, every school in the country has had to reinvent the way they handle emergency situations. In light of the tragedy, awareness and preparedness for emergencies have become more prevalent on campuses. At the College of William and Mary, this has meant an improved emergency notification system that alerts students and staff via many forms of technology.

“Like every other school in the country, we have taken even more steps to protect our campus than was the case before the VA Tech tragedy,” College President Taylor Reveley said in an email.

Before the shooting, there was no emergency notification system on the College campus.

“We did not have an assignment system or a mass notification system prior to the Virginia Tech incident,” Martin said. “In the wake of Virginia Tech, almost every university got a mass notification system or improved their mass notification system. Everybody has responded.”

The recent fine to Virginia Tech in response to failure to comply with the Cleary Act responds to the fact that the university failed to notify students in a timely fashion. This problem is exactly what colleges have tried to alleviate with the implementation of emergency notification systems.

“We have the ability to reach out to people in five or six different ways,” Martin said. “The intent of that is to make sure one of them gets through or that the person next to you is getting it. It gives you paths to get to people more quickly.”

The emergency notification system at the College notifies students through phone calls, text messages, voicemails, and e-mails. The College is switching to a new vendor to run the system this May.

“We are switching to a new venue that focuses completely on higher education,” Martin said. “It is going to allow us to get messages out more quickly.”

With the constant changes in technology, the administration continues to look at the best way to reach students quickly.

“One of the challenges for me is how do I communicate with students because that changes a lot,” Martin said. “Students don’t check their emails as much as they used to so how do I reach them through text messages, or Facebook, or Twitter to get information out to students so that they are aware of it.”

With the adoption of the new emergency notification system and improvement of other emergency plans, Martin views the process of improving emergency preparedness as ongoing.

“It is a never ending process. You are continually improving on your plans and trying to make them better,” Martin said. “It never stops.”

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