An emergency text message is blasted instantly to the cell phones of thousands of Kansas University students to warn them of possible danger.
Thousands of Lawrence parents within minutes hear a phone message from Superintendent Randy Weseman announcing an emergency or school closing.
Technology makes it possible, and in the aftermath of April's Virginia Tech shootings and the Douglas County bomb threats, KU and the Lawrence school district are finding instant message capability a necessity.
KU administrators are confident students, faculty and staff will be able to receive emergency text messages starting in August.
"We're still very focused on being functional for the fall semester," said Marlesa Roney, KU vice provost for student success.
University leaders have reviewed several notification products and are close to making a selection, she said. Students, faculty and staff have been able to sign up for the messaging system since May.
Roney said KU leaders also studied the response and notification during a June incident when law enforcement officers searched campus for a man reported to have a rifle on campus. Officers did not find anyone matching the description.
Lawrence school administrators and board members decided to purchase a parental-notification system after bomb threats were made against schools in the county on April 19. Thousands of students went home early that day. A Lawrence man is facing criminal charges related to the incident.
"We decided at that time that it was certainly time for us to look at a system that could be used not only for emergency notification but for school-specific notification," said Rick Gammill, special operations director for the school district.
At least two area districts, Eudora and Tonganoxie, had similar technology in place this year that allowed authorities to distribute mass messages by phone in minutes.
In Lawrence, the new system, SchoolMessenger, can send a recorded message quickly via phone to parents districtwide or in certain groups for announcements about emergencies, inclement weather or even a student's attendance issues.
Spokeswoman Julie Boyle said the district is now implementing a new student information system, Skyward, before it can start organizing the notification system in coming months.
In Eudora, during the April threats, the district sent a recorded message in six to seven minutes to parents at home, work or on a cell phone. The system, SchoolReach, pulls emergency contact information from the district's information database.
"It was absolutely huge that we were able to let parents know what was going on and taking some of the anxiety away," said Eudora Superintendent Marty Kobza.
The Baldwin City school district hopes to have the same system working this fall, said Superintendent Paul Dorathy.
Perry-Lecompton administrators have talked about similar systems, but for now the smaller district is able to effectively use school staff to call parents during emergencies, Superintendent Denis Yoder said.
Administrators said technological advances provide efficiency, but they should be used to complement an overall emergency plan.
When police officers were searching for an attempted murder suspect in May near Tonganoxie High School, some parents reported a malfunction in the phone message system. A district representative could not be reached for comment for this story.
At KU, more than 8,000 students, faculty and staff have signed up for the text messaging system, Roney said. It provides another avenue to relay important messages, she said.
"The multipronged approach is, to me, the key in all of this. You can never rely on one tool," Roney said.