Northwestern tests new emergency alert system

March 27, 2008 3:40:51 PM PDT
On college campuses across the country school administrators are working on new ways to alert students in the event of an emergency. When Northwestern University students return from spring break to campus in Evanston next week they'll learn about a new warning system.

Whether it's severe weather, a shooting or a large fire, whatever the emergency, Northwestern University students will now receive warning in at least three different ways.

A group of high schoolers toured Northwestern University's campus Thursday. In addition to great academics, they're also hearing about new safety and security measures. Four roof-top sirens were tested Thursday. They can be heard across Northwestern's 3-mile long campus and in some parts of Evanston. There's also the ability for school security to broadcast live and pre-recorded messages about the nature of the alert.

"My office is actually in the basement and I heard it fine," said Amy Stanley, Northwestern University professor.

Stanley says the sirens are just one of many ways school administrators can now reach her in the event of an emergency.

"I think it's working really well. Not only do I get e-mail, but I got an alert on my phone, and I get called on my home phone number as well. So every time something like this happens I get three messages," Stanley said.

Nearly one year ago, on the Virginia Tech campus, nearly two hours passed from the moment a gunman began killing people to the time school administrators sent out an e-mail message to students and staff.

In February, when a similar scene unfolded on Northern Illinois University's campus in DeKalb, a message went up on the school's website and out in an e-mail 20 minutes after the shootings. The school had no way to send text messages.

"Like many schools, I think we have looked at everything and taken a closer look and found the best vendors to provide the most current system," said Chuck Loebbaka, Northwestern University spokesman.

"Students have been talking about whether this is necessary, or whether it's a little too much, but I think there's no such thing as being too secure, too safe," said Clyde Guilamo, Northwestern University senior.

Much like area tornado sirens, Northwestern's new alert system will be tested on the first Tuesday of each month. But, as we've seen during other campus emergencies, technology can be a great warning tool as long as campus security is quick to activate it.


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