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BU Tests Emergency Alert System

by Mariah Fosnight
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BU Alert text

It is 6:00 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 28. Students swarm the third floor of Mugar library, hunched over their laptops and textbooks after a celebratory weekend of costume hunting, role taking and Halloween partying. It is silent, with the occasional noises of the guy who didn’t silent his phone and the bathroom door swinging open and shut.

I’m cursing my procrastination tendency and regretting the lack of productivity that was my weekend as I attempt to write a five-page paper on reproductive health concerns. I turn off my phone and disconnect my Internet connection to prevent further distractions.

As I begin tackling the introductory paragraph, a tall girl a few tables across from me stands up and announces that classes are cancelled tomorrow. Every one howls and claps. She contently packs up her backpack and exits down the stairs.

I turn on my phone and about 10 minutes later receive a text message from 821-04: (SWN 1/3) FROM: Boston University Alert Services – Daytime and evening classes on the Charles River campus are cancelled on Monday, October 29, 2012 due to Hurricane Sandy. (SWN 2/3) Essential Boston University employees must report for their regularly scheduled shift assignments. Please use extreme caution (SWN 3/3) especially when outside, due to the expected high winds associated with the storm. Shortly after I received an incoming call and voicemail from 617.353.5000 and an email from BUalert@bu.edu stating similar messages.

A bombardment of text messages, emails, phone calls and voicemails is the Boston University’s Emergency Alert System, and a room full of cheering students not always follows the receiving of these alerts.

“An emergency warranting an alert is any situation that presents a serious or continuing threat to students and employees,” says Scott Pare, BU deputy director of public safety.

The goal of the alert system is to communicate quickly and effectively with BU’s entire community in the event of an emergency. The system is in place to notify the community about the situation and relay critical information regarding the event, says Pare.

“I really appreciate that there is a texting service; it’s nice to be updated on what crimes or issues are happening on campus so that I can be aware,” says Blair Sheets, junior. “However, I feel like the phone call is unnecessary; I never answer them.”

On Friday, Nov. 9, BU’s Emergency Alert System completed its annual federally mandated test at 10:50 a.m. In prior tests, all alerts were sent and received within 15 minutes, says Pare.

Many students became increasingly annoyed with the Alert System after today’s testing.

The system was first put to use this semester on Sept. 5 when the Boston Police received a bomb threat at the Match School, which is located on BU’s west campus on the corner of Comm. Ave. and Babcock St. A series of armed robberies followed. On Oct. 5, the first emergency email, text and call was sent alerting the BU community of an armed robbery near campus at St. Paul and Thatcher streets in Brookline. The alert described the three suspects. The second armed robbery attempt occurred outside of 808 Comm. Ave. toward a female student. The alert described the same three suspects. A few days later, alerts concerning the capture of the suspects came through.

screen shot 2012 11 09 at 2 43 47 pm BU Tests Emergency Alert System

After this series of fearful emergency alerts throughout the semester, the student body suspected another robbery or something similarly bad when they received alerts concerning Hurricane Sandy.

“My first thought is, oh no, what happened now. I get scared, I’m not going to lie,” says Aly Young, junior. “I first thought that there had been another robbery. Then when I heard about Sandy, I thought they would tell us about no school or no power.”

Similarly, on Friday morning during the test, many students saw a text message, missed call and voicemail from the alert number and immediately thought the worst.

“This morning I again thought that the robbers were back,” says Young. “I now hold my pocketbook closer and call people when I walk back late.”

BU Today published an article notifying students about the alert testing on Friday morning before the test began sending alerts. Jacob Beck, senior, said this article prepared him, so he wouldn’t worry when receiving the alerts.

“I had read BU Today’s article saying the alert system was being tested, so I had been expecting that,” says Beck. “It was one of their headlines, so I was prepared.”

photo BU Tests Emergency Alert System

BU students are required to update their emergency alert number before being able to register for classes. Pare approximates that 43,000 are on the BU Alert System. Although, the BU Alert System has proven to be successful in the past, there are still minor glitches to correct.

“I find it strange that I always receive a text about an update, but only sometimes receive a call,” says Sheets. “I don’t really understand their system.”

Pare says there is always room for improvement in technology systems.

“The cascading is not always in order and the messages come out of order at times in the text,” he says. “The script of the message can always be improved.”

Is it time for a new system/improvements to the current system?

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