KU tests emergency alert system

The university sends text messages as part of a safety drill

A new text message alert system is up and running at Kansas University.

“It’s the most effective way to get hold of students, because so many people text,” KU junior Nicole Tichner said.

Earlier this year, Tichner signed up online to receive the messages on her phone. The first one arrived around noon Thursday, a test message sent out by university officials to the cell phones of more than 11,000 students, faculty and staff members.

“It’s just saying this is a test. Since we’ve never used this system, we’re just making sure that it works,” said Todd Cohen, university spokesman. “When an emergency occurs, we don’t want to have to pull out the handbook and figure out what we’re doing.”

It took Cohen about two minutes to type out the message on his computer. From the time he sent it, it took another two minutes to arrive on his phone.

“The Virginia Tech massacre raised the issue of how to inform people over a broad campus of something going on,” he said. “There is an expectation that we will make an effort to let people know if there’s something happening on campus, so they can make their own decision about whether they should be there or not.”

Students who received the message said they feel safer knowing it works.

“It’s comforting to know if something were to happen I could get it on my cell phone because I keep my cell phone with me all the time,” said Vanessa Rials, a KU freshman.

Adds KU freshman Shelly Turner, “I think it would be really helpful because not everybody has access to their e-mail often, so a text message would be good.”

To receive the text alerts, students, faculty and staff members must sign up online at sa.ku.edu.

“It’s pretty easy to do online,” KU senior Matthew Mawby said. “After the Virginia Tech thing, I just thought it would be a good idea.”

Although Thursday’s initial test went well, university officials realize not everyone carries a cell phone or uses text messages. In fact, this system is just a part of the university’s approach to quickly alerting the KU community to emergencies. The university also uses e-mail, voice mail and the KU Web site to alert students, faculty and staff of any imminent danger. In addition, the university installed a public address system in 48 of the most-used buildings on campus.

The entire emergency notification system cost nearly $650,000, but Cohen hopes it’s rarely used.

“It’s only going to be in really serious situations,” he said. “Most likely, this will be used for weather alerts more than anything else. Hopefully, that’s what it’ll be used for and nothing else.”