PUBLICATIONS Inside Illinois Vol. 27, No. 7, Oct. 4, 2007
Faculty, staff urged to register for emergency text-messaging system
The Urbana-Champaign campus of the UI is launching a new emergency communication system that will alert students and faculty and staff members to crisis situations on campus through mass cell-phone text and e-mail messages.
The emergency messaging system – one of several emergency communications strategies for the campus – was developed by Mutare Software, a company based in Schaumburg, Ill., that has developed similar systems for the U.S. Senate, General Electric and Ohio University. The system enables authorized campus officials to send thousands of text and e-mail messages to cell phones, PDAs, computers and other devices to alert people to emergencies that may affect their health or safety.
The system, which will be used to broadcast information to the entire campus community only when there is information about potentially life-threatening situations, will be used on a smaller scale to contact first responders about urgent situations. The system can be programmed to require a response from recipients, such as an acknowledgment or yes or no answer, a feature that will be used only when sending messages to small groups of people, not the entire campus.
Students and faculty and staff members are requested to log on to the emergency system Web site at emergency.illinois.edu and enter their contact information. Each person can enter up to three e-mail addresses and two text message addresses. Users can change, add to or delete their contact information at any time.
It should be noted that the system can deliver messages more quickly to e-mail accounts on university-owned e-mail systems and cannot control the speed of delivery to users’ accounts with Internet service providers such as Gmail.
While supplying the contact information is voluntary, enrolling will ensure that members of the campus community receive critical information in the most efficient manner possible. People who elect not to sign up for the messaging service will receive emergency alerts only by e-mail to the e-mail address they have listed in the campus directory, but everyone is urged to enter alternate e-mail addresses as well. People who want to receive alerts by text messages to their electronic devices or other notifications will need to enter that information into the system.
Staff members in Campus Information Technologies and Educational Services have been testing the system’s capacity and performance in recent weeks and plan a future series of larger-scale tests as well as regular, ongoing tests. Students and faculty and staff members may be asked to participate in future tests and are urged to join in if asked to do so.
“We think that the emergency messaging system is going to enhance our ability to contact a large number of people quickly, but no one system is going to reach everyone,” said Krystal Fitzpatrick, interim chief of police and director of public safety. “We have a multitude of avenues for reaching people, and the messaging system is just one component of the campus emergency communications strategy that includes disseminating information through mass e-mail, a telephone tree, local radio and television stations, and the 265-UIPD (265-8473) telephone number.”
Additionally, Web Services has developed a pop-up message that would appear on the Web browsers of computers connected to the UI network in emergency situations; it contains a link to an announcement with information/instructions.
The campus also recently activated a conference bridge telephone system that enables members of the campus emergency operations committee (CEOC) to conduct immediate conference calls about emergent situations 24 hours a day. The Champaign County Emergency Management Agency has agreed to facilitate broadcasting messages over National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather radios.
Oftentimes, word of mouth is the fastest way to spread information in urgent situations, said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor for public affairs.
“We have to remember that we are part of a community, and we need to take care of each other,” Kaler said. “It’s good citizenship to share information promptly with the people around us in emergency situations and, if we’re asked to help with testing the system, to engage in it properly to help ensure the safety of the campus community.”
The emergency messaging system can be activated by phone and online by authorized UI personnel, including the chancellor, provost, chief of police, university president and their designees.
In the wake of tragic shootings that have occurred at university campuses such as Virginia Tech, the Division of Public Safety and the Office of Campus Emergency Planning have been reviewing best practices and guidelines for dealing with threats posed by people armed with weapons, as well as other potential crises.
“We are looking at what we have in place and suggestions about how things could be improved,” said Krystal Fitzpatrick, interim chief of police and director of public safety.
Campus police have been trained in response techniques to active threats, and crisis intervention team officers have specialized training in responding to and assisting people with mental health issues.
The Office of Campus Emergency Planning has been working with individual campus units to develop emergency operations plans for various sorts of emergencies – including pandemics, floods, armed subjects – and the Campus Emergency Operations Committee has received specialized training in crisis management and participated in realistic exercises. Because college campuses are very open environments and despite the best efforts of police and other campus units, there may always be some risk of an armed subject entering the grounds or a building on campus. The UI police and the Office of Campus Emergency Planning have developed a template (available on the Web at www.ocep.uiuc.edu) to assist units in preparing their own plans for dealing with active threats.
Active threats are defined as incidents that create an immediate threat or present an imminent danger to the campus community, such as an active shooter or sniper.
The campus has a long established interdisciplinary committee – comprising representatives from the police, the dean of students office and legal counsel – that assesses problematic or threatening behaviors.
Members of the campus community are urged to call police any time they feel threatened or uneasy about a person’s behavior or sense that something is wrong.
While it’s natural to not want to get a co-worker or student in trouble, and easy to rationalize their behavior as being the result of a bad day, early detection of people having personal or family problems or demonstrating odd or threatening behavior is the best method for reducing the likelihood of “active threat” events.
For emergency mental health services:
In non-emergency situations:
What to do …
In the event of an active threat, such as a shooter, police and the Office of Campus Emergency Planning offer the following tips:
News Bureau, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
507 E. Green St., Suite 345, Champaign, Illinois 61820
Telephone 217 333-1085, Fax 217 244-0161