Virginia Tech Expands Emergency Notification System


By Melissa Solomon
Virginia Tech is joining the parade of higher education institutions in
beefing up its campus notification systems.
A school spokesman says the system announced June 21 is neither in reaction
to the April 16 shootings on campus — an incident that brought notification
systems into the forefront at many institutions — nor an admission that
Virginia Tech’s notification system was inadequate on the day of the
tragedy. In the wake of the shootings, many higher ed institutions said they
were looking at beefing up their notification systems.
Last fall, Virginia Tech issued a request for proposals for an emergency
notification system to expand its communication arm, according to university
spokesman Mark Owczarski. The search was put on hold after the shootings but
was resumed in May.
Even before the upgrade, the university had the means to communicate with
its community. It could send 36,000 e-mail messages — to all accounts
— in a matter of seconds. It could distribute alerts via phone, Web site, a
campus hotline, loudspeakers and the media. It was even in the process of
expanding its emergency notification infrastructure when the shootings
“We have a pretty good system in place, but we recognize that technology
continues to evolve,” Owczarski says.
The new system gives Virginia Tech the ability to reach more people.
Previously, the university could send messages only to university-run
platforms — e-mail to accounts and voice mail to the 5,000 campus
phones. The new system can send text and voice messages to communication
platforms beyond the university’s infrastructure.
A professor, for instance, could receive an instant message on her MSN
Messenger account; a student could get an e-mail sent to an account he uses
more frequently than his address; a parent could be notified by
mobile phone; or a staff member could receive a voice mail at his home phone
People can register their phone numbers and addresses on the Virginia Tech
Web site. The university plans to have the system fully operational by Aug.
20, when fall classes start.
Besides expanding its notification system, Virginia Tech named John Beach as
the university’s interim director of emergency management. Owczarski says
the new position was also created before the April 16 shootings. The
position was funded and posted in 2006, and the search was already under way
during the shootings.
“Our lives changed on April 16,” he says. “Something like this has never
happened on a college campus before, and hopefully it never will again.”

Jul 05 2007