Testing, Texting, 1, 2, 3

In the event of an earthquake or major power outage on campus, USF is prepared to send mass alerts to the entire university.
With an emergency notification system in place, the Department of Public Safety (DPS) conducted their spring test of the system last week, on the morning of Feb. 8.

DPS has established two different ways of notifying students. The first is the short message service (SMS/text) strategy, in which DPS contacts all students directly by phone call or text. DPS also sends an email to student USF accounts.

All students who possess a USFconnect account are automatically entered into the Emergency Notification Database. Students can choose to opt out of the database.

The second test, which took place on Thursday, Feb. 10 at noon, involved the citywide siren notification system, which is tested every Tuesday.

Having partnered with the City and County of San Francisco, USF’s Lone Mountain campus is one of nearly 70 buildings throughout the city that contain a siren.

“We have developed our own unique system in the event of a shooter on campus and that would be the only time we use the system,” said Daniel Lawson, the director of DPS. “The city may use it for catastrophic events announcing that there is food or water in a certain location or that help is on the way.”

After the Virginia Tech shooting in April 2007, many universities across the nation took major steps to tighten up their campus security measures, including USF.

The SMS notification was implemented shortly after the these shootings to notify students at USF of any serious emergency that might directly affect the campus. After testing emergency notification methods, DPS felt that the opt-out method, in which all students were entered into the database with the ability to withdraw, proved most effective.

While many students are particular about who possess their phone number, Lawson pointed out that the text message emergency notification method could mean “life or death” for any given student, especially in the event of a shooter on campus.

Eliza Hidalgo, a sophomore transfer student, praised the emergency test systems used by DPS. “Living in San Francisco where there is a lot of activity going on,” she said, “hearing the 12 o’clock siren is definitely a good thing.”

While a student at UC Santa Cruz, Hidalgo recalled a scenario in which the school notified her of a potential threat on campus. Thanks to a message sent to her phone by the university, Hidalgo escaped to a safe place and avoided any potential disaster.

Hidalgo sees no problem with the short message strategy, “as long as the messages are solely used in the event of an emergency.”
Lawson said the university “will not use the text message method as a means of sending out advertisements or asking for alumni support. It will strictly be used for emergency notification only.”

DPS noted that they encountered very few problems during the emergency testing and both practice events ran smoothly.

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