Alert system test breaks records
Published: Thursday, September 24, 2009
Updated: Thursday, September 24, 2009 07:09
A test of Tufts' emergency alert system ran successfully yesterday, reaching more people than any before.
This is the third consecutive year Tufts has been working with Send Word Now, the external vendor behind the alerts. Dawn Irish, director of communications and organizational effectiveness for University Information Technology, said the system improves each year.
"I think that Send Word Now continues to exceed our expectations in terms of delivering emergency communications to the community," she said.
Send Word Now sent 9,604 text messages in under three minutes yesterday, according to Irish. Text messages are the fastest form of delivery for the emergency alert. "In a real emergency, that's a statistic that matters, how quickly those texts got sent out," Irish said. "If there were a real crisis, that would be the method that most people would first hear about it."
The emergency alert also made 18,309 first attempts to leave voicemails in five minutes. Ninety-two percent of these attempts were successful and able either to receive an answer or leave a message.
Irish attributed the test's success in part to the number of people in the emergency alert system this year, which considerably topped the number of registered individuals in the past. "Last year at this time, we had about 53 percent of all those on our three campuses logged in and reporting updated contact info," she said. "This year it's 71 percent, which is a significant improvement."
Geoffrey Bartlett, technical services manager for the Department of Public Safety, agreed that the test was successful. "It was a success and the technology continues to exceed our expectations in terms of how quickly it's able to get out a message to the Tufts community," he said.
Bartlett agreed that the test went smoothly. "We expect there were probably a small number of people who had problems and recognize that," he said. "Those are known factors in the use of this sort of technology, many things we can't control for, like being in a building with poor cell coverage."
Improvements in technology continue to improve success rates for contacting individuals during emergency alerts, but Bartlett stressed that word of mouth is still imperative in the event of a real crisis. "Part of the answer is technology, but the more important part is when you get an emergency message, spread the word and take action right away," he said.
During an actual emergency, Bartlett explained, a significant amount of phone lines may not be working. In this case, administrators depend on reaching a small "critical mass" of students in the hope that they will let others know about the situation.
"We want to reach an excess of people on a test day ... because of the knowledge that when we have to use it in an emergency, we may not have 100 percent of phone systems," Bartlett said.
Tufts' emergency alert system now has 49,156 contact points, including e-mail addresses and voicemail or text numbers. "Most people have about three ways in which to contact them," Irish said.
All phone numbers in the system receive a call, and all cell phone numbers receive a text message. Faculty members receive phone calls to their office phone numbers and cell or home phones. In addition to calling and texting students, Send Word Now sent an e-mail to every student's Tufts e-mail account.