Emergency alert system to kick off

Reflecting a national trend among colleges and universities, Yale is set to launch a new emergency notification system this week that will be capable of contacting the entire school community within minutes, Deputy University Secretary Martha Highsmith said.

With Yale ALERT, administrators will be able to simultaneously send voice and text messages to cell phones and TTY/TDD-receiving devices for the hearing impaired as well as e-mails to all Yale accounts in the case of an emergency. Highsmith said the program is a response to the April shootings at Virginia Polytechnic Institute — the deadliest shooting in United States history — and complements other new public safety measures like adding loudspeakers to security vehicles and video cameras to campus blue phones.

As part of a new emergency notification system launching later this week, video cameras will soon be attached to Blue Phones across the campus.
Ryan Galisewski
As part of a new emergency notification system launching later this week, video cameras will soon be attached to Blue Phones across the campus.

“We started looking at expanding our emergency notification system after the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech,” Highsmith said. “What we wanted to do was use new technology that was becoming available to provide multiple ways of reaching the campus community.”

The new alert system relies heavily on redundancy, Highsmith said. The administration wanted to be sure that there were a number of “backup” forms of communication in order to ensure that emergency messages could be delivered, she said.

Until now, the University has relied on an e-mail alert system that complemented a “Reverse 911” system, in which University officials could simultaneously call all University landline phones with an automated message in major emergencies. Soon after the shooting, University and YPD officials said Yale had no plans to upgrade its alert system.

Highsmith said plans for the emergency notification system were first discussed in the late spring and early summer of this year. In order to create a number database for Connect-Ed, she said, administrators asked undergraduates to provide their cell phone numbers as a part of the academic registration process.

Yale ALERT is powered by a service called Connect-Ed, which is provided by the California-based company NTI Group. The NTI Group is a privately held company that provides notification services for K-12 schools, universities, local governments and state and federal agencies.

The notification system is hosted remotely through a variety of servers located in “multiple locations across the United States,” according to the company’s Web site. The Connect-Ed service allows the University to store up to six phone numbers per student or faculty member.

Princeton, which implemented its Princeton Telephone and E-mail Notification System in April of this year, is the only other Ivy League school to use the NTI Group’s Connect-Ed service. Princeton first tested PTENS in May.

According to a Princeton University press release dated Oct. 22, Princeton conducted its second campus-wide test of PTENS on Oct. 19 and found that 87 percent of the intended recipients received the message, and 70 percent of those within the first five minutes of the test. Of the recipients, 50 percent got the message through “live phone delivery” whereas 37 percent received the message by voicemail.

“Perhaps the most significant statistic is the increase in the total number of people who are now included in the notification system because they have now provided the University with at least one valid phone number,” said Garth Walters, head of Princeton’s Emergency Preparedness Task Force in a written statement.

Other Ivy League universities have also implemented similar notification systems. Harvard and Cornell are using Omnilert’s “e2Campus” technology while both the University of Pennsylvania and Brown are using emergency notification services provided by MIR3.

Virginia Tech also implemented similar technology in June, choosing instead to contract 3n (National Notification Network) for its “VT Alerts” system, according to a Jun. 21 press release from the university

Highsmith said the University was also looking into other means of emergency notification. Many of the large buildings with fire alarm systems can be used for public address, she said, and Yale police vehicles have loudspeaker capabilities. Highsmith said Yale is planning on adding the loudspeakers to Yale Security vehicles as well.

The University is also testing a new addition to campus blue phones — video cameras.

“It’s not video surveillance, so to speak,” Highsmith said. “It allows us to see what is happening only if someone has pressed the emergency button on the phone.”

While there are no blue phones with video capability near any of the residential colleges, there is one video-capable blue phone near Yale Police headquarters at the Rose Center on 101 Ashmun Street.

The Yale University Security Office plans to test the Yale ALERT system in the coming months and will e-mail information regarding the test later this month.

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