URI rolls out new rapid EmergencyAlert system

Part of comprehensive emergency communications program

KINGSTON, R.I. — November 13, 2007 — The University of Rhode Island has launched a new rapid notification system, called EmergencyAlert that will distribute urgent messages in a matter of minutes to students, faculty and staff through cell phones, voicemail, text messaging and email.

The activation of the EmergencyALERT system follows about five months of work by campus leaders to assess the University’s emergency response and communications programs and equipment. Three days after the shootings last spring at Virginia Tech, URI President Robert L. Carothers convened a meeting of campus leaders involved with safety, security and communications. At the meeting, Carothers established subcommittees to determine if additional systems were needed.

“As we know from the events at Virginia Tech, time is of the essence when a threat exists on campus,” Carothers said. “That horrible day in Virginia, and more recent shootings at Delaware State University and the University of Memphis have only underscored our need to use methods and equipment that will allow us to communicate to our community in the quickest, most efficient means possible.”

While the University has for many years had systems and technology in place to communicate emergency notices, these systems lacked the rapid access needed to quickly reach students, faculty and staff.

The new system augments existing communications, including web postings, email, voicemail and automated message lines, but will take advantage of new technologies to build a fully integrated emergency communications program.

However, the system is only effective if all segments of the University community, students, faculty and staff provide current and accurate emergency contact information. Those who do will get emergency messages sent to their communication devices in priority order. And as a bonus, students, faculty and staff will receive class cancellation notices in the event of storms.

The EmergencyAlert system provides:

• Multiple communication options per user – cell phones, land line phones, PDAs, computers, text messages, voice messages and email.

• Two-way communications for voice and data that allow the University to track notifications and determine quickly who is safe and who needs help.

• A plan for parents to be included in emergency notifications.

To enter their most accurate and current contact information, community members need to log on to the University’s eCampus system that is used for class registration by students and personnel information for faculty and staff.

The system uses services by MIR3, a San Diego company that provides dissemination of time-urgent information to and from any communication devices. Leading universities, businesses and government agencies employ MIR3 for emergency communication systems.

In addition to the EmergencyALERT system, the University is in the process of augmenting its blue light emergency phone system by installing an audio broadcasting capability and flashing lights. The flashing lights would be activated and a brief message would be broadcast in the event of an immediate threat. Before the system is operational, campus community members will be informed about what sites and resources would provide additional information. There are 68 exterior blue light stanchions on the Kingston Campus, 5 at the Narragansett Bay Campus and 5 at the W. Alton Jones Campus. In addition, URI has 28 exterior wall/building mounted call boxes.

For a complete description of University emergency notification policies and procedures click on www.uri.edu/emergency.

“Instead of paralyzing us, these violent campus incidents have galvanized us to take action,” Carothers said. “We have looked closely at our personnel and systems that respond to community members who are in crisis to make sure they get the help they need. Our first responders, police, security and ambulance services have examined and updated their procedures to address these critical issues. But most importantly, we have come together as a community to address violence and its devastating consequences on college campuses and beyond.”