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That’s the directive being issued to faculty and staff this week as safety officials unveil a new campus-wide emergency notification system.
Picking up a ringing land-line in a classroom, a library lab, a public help desk – or anywhere on campus – is the linchpin to the system’s success, says Brian Foltz, emergency preparedness coordinator, Department of Public Safety.
The emergency notification system, which made its quiet debut over semester-break, will send emergency text-messages to the cell phones, pagers, or email of any student, faculty, or staff who signs on for the free service.
These messages also will be rendered in a computer-generated voice and routed to pertinent phones. It was an extra feature that the Department of Public Safety purchased from e2Campus, the service provider.
“Most classrooms and teaching labs on this campus have phones and those phone numbers have been programmed into the system. So whoever answers the phone will hear this computerized voice,” said Foltz.
Campus safety officials are aware that the irony of employing a text-messaging system will not be lost on instructors who ask students to switch off cell phones in class. Old fashioned wall-phones, and keeping the ringer volume on loud settings, are important elements to the new system.
As of now there is a programmed phone in at least one place on every floor of every building on campus, says Foltz. That includes Kraemer Family Library, and the University Center. However, nine classrooms and 14 labs on campus currently lack phones – a situation soon to be remedied, says Jim Spice, police chief, Department of Public Safety.
The second directive – more of a pretty please – is to help spread the word.
Foltz and Spice want faculty members to encourage students in their courses to sign up for the service.
It’s important that students know UCCS is a safe, well-patrolled campus, Spice says. But in the wake of recent school violence – from the April 2007 Virginia Tech massacre to the August 2007 stabbing of a freshman on the CU-Boulder campus – campus safety officials nationwide say swift notification methods could mean the difference between life and death.
“There are no guarantees but this could help immensely,” says Foltz. “This will allows us to give instructions to keep things from getting any worse than they already are.”
Students were handed e2Campus informational flyers this week when they collected photo IDs and parking permits. Those in campus housing also found notices in their mailboxes.
Still, a classroom announcement from professors is often the most effective nudge, campus safety officials say.
Here’s how e2Campus works:
Weather, on occasion, might be considered an emergency. A memorable late-afternoon snowstorm that struck last winter, turning Austin Bluffs Parkway into an icy chute and vehicles into luges, would have been a worthy trigger of the emergency notification system, says Foltz.
“We closed the campus but nobody knew about it because we couldn’t get a hold of people to tell them,” he said. “Those who were already here didn’t know to go home and people coming for night classes didn’t know to stay away.
“That’s what we call a non-routine snow closure.”
On the whole, the decision not to employ emergency text-messaging for routine weather delays was a deliberate one.
“Students made it clear to us that if we were to send text messages for something other than an emergency, they’d cancel,” said Spice. “I’ve seen some campuses use it for that and it’s a mistake. It waters it down.”
Evidence suggests that interest in emergency notification spikes in a climate of crisis.
After the CU-Boulder stabbing last August, those on campus who’d registered for Rave Alert – a text-messaging system comparable to e2Campus – surged from 1,200 to 11,000, said Spice.
Closer to home, when a UCCS visitor was spotted brandishing a pellet-gun on campus just two months after the Virginia Tech incident, fears were sparked that a bona fide shooter was on the loose. A team of 10 police officers, from the campus and city of Colorado Springs, swarmed on the suspect, who later was charged with disorderly conduct.
Campus police say they reacted immediately, sending out an email within fifteen minutes that warned of the situation. Some said it wasn’t enough.
“We got hammered by the media, by campus staff, and students,” said Spice.
Early response indicates that interest in the new campus emergency notification system is strong. More than 625 users had registered by Wednesday, the second day of a Public Safety publicity blitz, said Spice
To sign up, visit the Public Safety homepage at www.uccs.edu/~pusafety
Routine snow-related campus closures and delays will continue to be posted by the campus police with information to be found on the Internet at www.flashalert.net/news.html?id=502 or by calling the campus weather/closure information line at 719-262-3346, listening to local radio and TV stations, and via e-mail sent to staff, faculty, and students.