Southeast plans to install emergency alert system

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Southeast Missouri State University is looking at a new emergency alert system proposal that could go into effect in the next year.

The proposed system, described as a "back to basics" intercom system, is intended to alert students, faculty and staff of an emergency. Southeast has been researching and planning the system for about two years.

Under the proposal, a wireless intercom link would be added between buildings on campus and speakers would be placed in classrooms, dorm rooms and common areas. From a single source, emergency messages could be disseminated throughout campus or to select buildings.

The new warning system would be an expansion of the existing storm alert system already in use by Southeast.

"The old PA system that schools used to have has turned out to be the most dependable. We want to cover our campus as quickly as possible," said Doug Richards, director of the Department of Public Safety.

According to Keith Kimmel, facilities management special projects director, the system is still in the early stages of development. Construction is still in the bidding process, and though the exact cost of the new system is not yet known, Kimmel said it would be in the "hundreds of thousands."

If plans stay on schedule the new system could begin installation as soon as this fall. The three-phase process would begin with installation in the residence halls, followed by the academic buildings and then administrative buildings.

"In any good campus emergency plan, you have those systems in place: you have your procedures in place, your equipment in place, you have everything ready to roll but you have redundancy," Richards said. "You don't rely on one system; you have three to four deep in anything you do."

The primary alert will be through the outdoor and new indoor intercom system, followed by the secondary systems such as the school's Web page, mass e-mails, local television and radio and possibly a texting service.

In recent months, many schools have implemented a text-based alert system, which sends a written message to enabled cell phones and other mobile devices. However, in some situations, a texting system can be unreliable as a primary system. Cell phone towers are overwhelmed by the number of messages sent out and the number of outgoing and incoming calls at the same time.

According to Beth Glaus, emergency operation manager of protocol at Southeast, the University of Missouri-Kansas City once sent a message to students at 6 a.m. stating classes were canceled for weather, but many students did not receive the message until 9:30 a.m.

Another problem is reaching all of the students. Glens said many current systems require students to opt in, and some schools have subscription rates below 40 percent. Still, she said, a text-based system may be worthwhile as a secondary option.

For more information, contact Beth Glaus at bglaus@semo.edu or visit the Web site for Southeast's Department of Public Safety at www5.semo.edu/dps.

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