Txt msgs alne wnt wrk

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

September 21, 2007 Ed Cartoon

Last year’s school shootings have prompted Western’s Community Police Services to implement a variety of emergency -preparedness initiatives.

In the event of a similar incident here at Western, these initiatives would ensure the public’s safety. One such initiative is the emergency preparedness task force that carried out a training session for personnel on campus last August. A question that arose from this training was the issue of warning the public in the event of an emergency.

One idea has been to contact students through text messages. Western is looking into implementing such a program based on similar ones that have already begun at the University of Calgary and Concordia University.

While contacting students through text messaging is a good idea in principle, there are a number of issues that make the system questionable.

First is the stigma that text messaging is not a serious medium for communication. Most students use text messaging for social purposes; how many would be willing to respond seriously in the event Western sent them a message warning of a crisis?

Education would be key in persuading students to respect such a system. Alongside the system itself, Western would need a method of educating students about how to react to emergency text messages, both in order that they respect it as well as not panic.

There is also the risk of inducing panic among students. Panic has the potential to worsen the threat if students do not know how to properly react in an emergency.

Another question to consider is whether such a system generates unnecessary fear. If students rely solely on text messaging to alert them to threats, it risks creating a dependency on text messaging as a lifeline in he event of a crisis.

Also, the cost of implementing and maintaining this system at the University of Alberta is $1,000 dollars per year, and an additional 25 cents per message to send a message to each student. We must asks ourselves if a system that only has the potential to reach a certain number of students is worth the cost. Not all students, after all, have a cell phone, and how well can we expect the message to spread to those without one?

For a truly effective system, Western must provide a means of communicating over multiple channels. Is the cost of implementing this system over numerous mediums feasible, or is it easier to find a different method entirely?

One suggestion is to install loudspeakers in all buildings, like in Sydenham Hall. Currently, only half Western’s buildings have a PA system.

Despite the questions this system raises, emergency text messaging represents a sincere effort by the university to respond to crisis situations on campus. The university should be commended for doing what is right for its staff and students, while being made aware that better options are available.

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