Text messaging to serve as new security measure

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

A Blackberry device

Nwzflash: Txt msging may B more helpful than U thnk.

Universities from coast-to-coast are integrating cell phone text messaging alert systems into their emergency procedures.

Concordia University currently has a system in place where text messages are sent to staff and faculty to notify them about emergencies, explained Robert Rivard, assistant operations manager in Concordia’s security department.

The University of Calgary recently took the concept one step further. On Sept. 4, they launched a free, voluntary text messaging emergency system for all students, provided by Rogers Communications.

So far, students have been receptive to the service, Lanny Fritz, University of Calgary director of campus security, said. Nearly 2,500 students have registered to date.

Fritz noted the text messaging system will be used sparingly. “We’re talking about a life-threatening situation on campus,” Fritz said.

Concern over dangerous situations at universities has increased following campus shootings at Dawson College in Montreal and Virginia Tech.

At Virginia Tech, a dormitory shooting spiraled into a massacre. In the two hours it took university administration to release a mass email of the original incident, the shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, had time to mail a letter before returning to campus to fatally shoot 32 more people.

Megan Ward, first-year of media, information and technoculture, student said text messaging alerts would be a good idea because “everybody has a cell phone.”

Elgin Austen, director of Campus Community Police Service at Western, disagreed. He said text messaging alone only reaches a small number of students.

“We’re interested and moving in that direction ourselves but it’s only one layer of communication,” Austen said.

He added mass text messaging in an emergency scenario could create high levels of anxiety.

“There needs to be follow-up, infrastructure to keep people safe,” Austen added.

According to Austen, text messaging is a potential portion of a larger emergency preparedness system at Western, developed following Western’s “Harmony II” emergency plan exercise in August " a mock shooting incident at Medway-Sydenham Hall.

Austen said the 8,000 phones at Western will be replaced by a digital system, with the ability for a PA system.

“At any particular time from a central location, a message could be sent to all telephones,” Austen explained.

An additional PA system will be built into the fire systems in all new Western constructions.

To give students more details of an emergency situation, Austen explained that messages will also be displayed on the Western website.

“There’s no way with a university of this size to get rapid communication out ... if various methods are used promptly, [then] the message can get out.”

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