KU tests emergency alert system

Text messaging service to begin during fall semester

Kansas University is now one of the first schools in the nation to be able to send out a mass emergency alert on campus.

Testing of the system started Wednesday.

Fire and police officers will now be able to call Public Safety dispatchers from the field and relay an emergency message for anything from terror threats to a hazardous spill specific to one building or the entire campus.

“That’s pretty powerful,” said Bob Rombach, the university’s fire marshal and architect for Design and Construction Management.

Rombach said Virginia Tech “found (making an alert) very limiting” when a gunman killed more than 30 people on the campus in April. KU’s system will help for anything “that arises in today’s crazy world,” he said.

On July 2, university administrators authorized installation of a $10,000 to $12,000 Simplex Fire Alarm System, Rombach said. About 12 years ago, Design and Construction Management began replacing horn-based systems with speaker systems, already putting KU ahead of the curve of many universities, Rombach said.

Before, buildings played a prerecorded fire evacuation message. In 2000, KU added a tornado alarm that alerted people to seek safety.

Ralph Oliver, KU police chief, said the university typically relies on mass e-mail messages for alerts, but the university community would largely be unaware.

By the end of August, the system will be tested in 16 more buildings. Within a year, several other buildings will receive fire alarm system overhauls along with the mass notification system.

Also new this fall semester will be an emergency text messaging service. University leaders have reviewed several notification products and will choose one soon. Students, faculty and staff can still sign up to receive alerts.