Colleges work toward better alert systems

The Virginia Tech massacre has created an industry. The idea for a modern source of communication during emergencies has evolved into universities trying to better the warning systems, including TCU.

Right now, the university has four sources of communication during an emergency: campus e-mails, a recorded information line, the TCU home page and the media.

Tracy Syler-Jones, associate vice chancellor for marketing and communication, said the chancellor has formed a committee to examine mass notification systems, which sends a message to a device that notifies multiple recipients. However, a decision has not yet been made, she said.

Informing faculty, staff and students in emergency situations is the priority, Syler-Jones said.

“We are just augmenting the systems we already have,” Syler-Jones said.

Don Mills, vice chancellor for student affairs, said the goal is to be able to notify people immediately either by text or e-mail. He said no matter how fast these messages are sent, they may not be received directly.

Mills said the committee is working on a loudspeaker-outdoor system as well as a phone messaging system.

TCU is right on the heels of other universities, Syler-Jones said.

Bob Wright, director of public affairs at the University of Texas at Arlington, said the three primary communication sources that UTA uses are campus-wide e-mails, an indoor loudspeaker system and a text messaging system through the company Mobile Campus.

UTA is in the process of expanding the current loudspeaker system to outdoors as well, Wright said. He said the system can be zoned to certain campus locations from the UTA police dispatch center and the UTA Police Department headquarters.

Lee Arning, director of emergency management at Southern Methodist University, said SMU uses a variety of different high-tech and low-tech systems to notify students in an emergency situation.

“You can’t count on just one; you have to have redundancy,” Arning said.

That’s why SMU provides its building managers with walkie-talkies and bull horns in addition to mass notification systems, such as phone e-mail, text messaging and loudspeaker systems, Arning said. He said a siren was installed that can be used as a loudspeaker to inform everyone in the community as well.

Arning said Virginia Tech is the “Columbine” for higher education and all colleges should be reading and watching the Virginia Tech aftermath with a learning intent.

In addition to better TCU campus security, Craig Allen, director of residential services, said, the dorms side-doors are only open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. to eliminate tail-gaters – people who follow residents into the building.

Within the next couple of years, Allen said, phase-2 of security development is to eliminate use of the side-doors and eventually phase-3 will allow an alarm to sound at the use of the side-doors.