Campus emergency alert program a work in progress
By Amber Sandlin
Sun Star Reporter
On July 1, students at campus computers were surprised to find out they were participating in an Alert Notification System test. The Alert Notification System is a software program operated by the Office of Information and Technology (OIT) and the UAF police department. The program was designed to alert students on campus to emergencies such as accidents, natural disasters or active shooters.
UAF recently integrated the program to include campus televisions and all campus computers. OIT support technician Josh Watts, a junior, said he had received a few frightened calls from students around campus saying their computers had frozen without warning and who didn’t realize they had to click on the screen to exit.
After the shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, UAF began organizing a program called the Emergency Response System. In the past three years, UAF emergency responders have added different forms of mass communication across campus in an effort to avoid chaos during a crisis. The July 1 test sent and received confirmation that over 350 students received their message in two minutes or less. However, students using Macintosh OS- or Linux-based computers connected to the University server did not receive the message. “We are currently attempting to produce a system wide communication emergency alert program,” said Randy Pommenville, UAF’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinator.
According to the Chief of UAF police, Sean McGee, the Macintosh and Linux computers are connected to the University network differently than the Windows computers. Chief McGee said that the program is still very new and that the company that developed it, Alertus, hopes to have Mac and Linux users able to receive the alert by the fall semester. The Alertus company noticed the budget changes, and cuts in schools and university’s across the country and decided to donate the software to help university’s become more safe without taking hits to their budgets. Students can download the program to their personal computers to receive these alerts while on campus. OIT is currently testing to see if this program will send out alerts regardless of the location.
Recently, UAF emergency responders began working with a company called Nixle, which assists in sending secure text messages across networks from the local police departments, communities and schools. Executive Director of OIT User Services, Karl Kowalski encourages students to subscribe to at least one emergency alert notification. The university police department has a link on their main website connecting to Nixle where students can opt in to be alerted to emergency events happening on campus.
Another form of communication the UAF police department uses to get out an alert is university cable television. A message can be sent out that will appear on all campus televisions hooked up to the university cable network. Additionally, blue emergency telephones have been installed throughout campus that automatically connect to UAF emergency dispatch. Loudspeakers have also been placed on the top of the Gruening building that can broadcast emergency alerts.