St. Thomas about to launch campuswide phone and e-mail Emergency Notification System

St. Thomas about to launch campuswide phone and e-mail Emergency Notification System

A student wearing a Fred Flintstone mask and carrying a .50-caliber rifle was arrested last Wednesday while walking across the St. John’s University campus in Queens, New York. While the arrest was still in progress, university officials used a new cell phone emergency system to alert students about the problem and to stay put until the coast was clear.

It was the first time St. John’s used the system since it was installed at the beginning of the semester, and it worked well. A system very much like it will be launched in October at the University of St. Thomas.

The St. Thomas Emergency Notification System, when fully implemented, will send a combination of voice and text messages to the cell phones, home phones and e-mail accounts of all university students, staff and faculty.

When the system is initially launched this month, it will be able to send messages to residence hall and office phones and to university e-mail accounts. Later this fall, the system also will be able to send text and/or voice messages to cell phones and home phones.

Students, staff and faculty do not need to do anything to be part of the initial phase of the Emergency Notification System at this time. Later this month, the university will publish information on how cell phone numbers and cell carrier (your cell phone company) information can become part of the system. In future years, cell phone numbers and carrier information will be collected as part of the registration process for students.

Cindy Sundberg, the project manager for the new system and St. Thomas’ telecommunications operations manager, said that what happened at St. John’s University in New York is an excellent example of how St. Thomas would use the system.

“This only would be used in the most extreme cases involving the safety of the university community,” she said. “It will not be used, for example, for school-closing announcements because of winter weather.”

She said the system only will be used by the university’s Department of Public Safety. Public Safety officials were trained on the new system this past week.

Like St. John’s in New York, St. Thomas decided to install the system after a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech last April.

Sam Levy, vice president for Information and Resource Technologies, Jane Canney, vice president for Student Affairs, and Mark Vangsgard, vice president for Business Affairs, pulled together a committee to research systems that could provide emergency alerts, and an implementation team to install and operate the system.

Employees from Public Safety, Residence Life, Purchasing, Information and Resource Technologies, Student Affairs and University Relations were involved in the project.

After researching the products offered by seven vendors, the university selected the CityWatch system that is sold and supported by AVTEX, of Bloomington, a firm that provides a range of call centers, emergency notification systems and voicemail systems.

Research on the new system was conducted over the summer. It was installed and training and testing took place in September.

When fully operational later this year, the CityWatch system will allow the university to quickly call up to three numbers for each student, staff and faculty member, and to send a written message to e-mail accounts, and a text message to cell phones that accept such messages. The system will call each of the phone numbers until someone answers (a message on a voice-mail system does not count as an answer). If no one answers the phones, the system will leave a message about the emergency.

When cell phones are included on the calling list, they generally will be called first, followed by a residence hall or office phone. That method will reduce the amount of traffic on the university’s communication system.

“The cell phone numbers we collect for the Emergency Notification System are treated as confidential information and will not be released to others under any circumstances,” Sundberg emphasized.

Parents, alumni and friends cannot sign up to receive the emergency messages, Sundberg said, so the system can work as quickly and as effectively as possible.

“Like fire-extinguishers or emergency call boxes around campus, this is one more system to ensure the safety of our community,” Sundberg said. “And it’s one of those systems that we hope we never have reason to use.”