By Kelsi Peace, Managing Editor
The university purchased a new alert system this week, signing a contract for a system that can text message, e-mail, voice message and send digital signals in emergency or urgent situations.
“It’s a significant commitment by the university to provide the latest technology of safety to the campus community,” said Police Chief Jimmy Ellison. “Before Virginia Tech, these systems were cutting edge. Since Virginia Tech, these systems are expected.”
But for ACU, the April campus massacre at Virginia Tech merely expedited a process that was already in place, Ellison said, spurring the ACU Crisis Response Team to move forward with an alert system the team had been considering since early February.
After sifting through a handful of companies that offer instant
messaging capabilities, Ellison said the team settled on OMNILERT’s e2Campus system. Three major factors in the decision were a proven client base, quality and reliability and cost.
“When you weigh all of those three things together, there were about three companies that rose to the top,” Ellison said.
The e2Campus system came without extra capabilities that drive up the cost, said Jim Holmans, a proponent of the system purchase.
“It gave us a lot of capability, and it didn’t charge us for things we won’t be using,” Holmans said.
Ellison said he hopes to see the ACU alert system launch in the next few weeks.
Participation in the program is optional – students must register themselves online once the system is running, most likely through a Web link, Ellison said. To register, students will list their provider, cell phone number and possibly further information with e2Campus, and all information will be used expressly for the program. Students who are not on a text-messaging plan will be charged for the text.
Once registered, students are on a list to receive emergency and urgent text messages from the university, though only from a select group of administrators and for a defined purpose. Ellison said drafting a specific policy for the program is underway.
“This system is not going to be used for anything except
extremely urgent issues or emergency situations,” Ellison said. “We want to absolutely assure everyone it will not be used for food court specials.”
Ellison cited last winter’s severe weather as an example of the system’s benefit, adding that the winter months aren’t far off. And the Virginia Tech campus shootings last April served as another reminder of the need to communicate quickly across campus.
Unlike e-mail or phone calls, Holmans pointed out a text message can reach students in class as well.
“What we found is that most folks have a cell phone that will receive text messaging,” Holmans said. “That’s just the way today’s world operates. We felt we would be able to reach more people with text messages than with anything else.”
With the ACU alert system, students will receive an e-mail and text message alert simultaneously, a step Ellison said reflects the university’s commitment to safety and prevention, unique to other universities ACU’s size.
In the coming weeks, the university will launch a campaign aimed at encouraging student participation in the program.
Throughout the next two years, the university will pay about $9,000 for the ACU alert system.
“Here’s $4,500 per year for a system that can easily save lives for less than $1 per person,” Ellison said. “You can’t put a price tag on safety.”
And the system also brings piece of mind, Holmans said.
“We never hope anything adverse happens on campus,” Holmans said. “But knowing that we will have this capability of distributing information quickly, it’s certainly a comfort to me.”