|Ref: Virginia school announces campus alert system
| 04.24.2007 | 07:36:30 | Views: 1613 |
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A contracted firm would rapidly send out emergency phone calls, text messages and e-mails to everyone on campus.
BY SETH FREEDLAND
April 20 2007
WILLIAMSBURG -- The warning e-mails came out about two hours after the first shooting - too late to do much good, some say. And even still, many students were in class or outside and the notices sat unread.
But what if every student, faculty member and administrator had received a call and a text message to their phones at the first sign of trouble?
Such is the plan for the College of William and Mary, and possibly other state-sponsored universities in Virginia, under a system described to the college's Board of Visitors on Thursday.
In the next week or so, William and Mary will sign a contract with a company that would provide the kind of service that college officials believe could make gaps in disaster communication a thing of the past.
Administrators couldn't give the company's name because the contract is not finished. But the service provided would send an emergency e-mail, phone call and text message to cell phones and landlines in dorms and classrooms.
The service is flexible on details. Calls can come in an official's voice or off a computer. They can be sent to up to six numbers and two e-mail addresses per person, either one at a time if the recipient doesn't answer or all at once.
There could be a response function added, requesting recipients to press a number in answer to some question. Caller ID could be any text at all. And either the same or a different message could be sent to parents.
Because all this would be handled by the company's server, it would take a matter of minutes. Bulk e-mail dispatches sent on the school's server can take as long as three hours to be delivered, officials said.
The service's price would be about $3 per person.
William and Mary began investigating the idea after threats of violence last May brought the FBI to campus. While the threats proved to be empty, a review of the college's emergency policies ensued.
Officials could have signed the contract already, but they elected to give other state colleges in Virginia the option of signing up for the service, too. On Monday, as the tragedy at Virginia Tech unfolded, the proposal language was sitting on the state attorney general's desk.
This fall, William and Mary plans to try out the system with either a test of an emergency broadcast or a welcome message from college administrators. The server will report back which numbers don't work and officials will then e-mail those people to get correct contact information.
Also at the meeting Thursday, officials broadly discussed its ever-adapting emergency response. They are also considering an alarm for those in places like pools or gyms where phones are not readily available.
The college is also looking to install enough blue-light emergency phones to have one visible in every location on campus.
After Monday's shootings, W&M offered police and counseling support to Virginia Tech, among other aids. The Council of Presidents is coordinating university help, officials said.
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