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Emergency communications plan in place for University

by Karen A. Grava - August 27, 2007

UConn wants your cell phone number, but it’s not for a social call.

The numbers are being collected as part of a program for emergency communications developed during the summer and put into place this fall.

“In light of the potential for a crisis to take place on college campuses, as most recently and tragically occurred at Virginia Tech, the University has been reviewing and enhancing its emergency communications systems,” says Barry Feldman, vice president and chief operating officer. “The safety of our students, faculty, and staff, is paramount.”

The new emergency communications will include a text messaging notification system to all UConn faculty, staff, and students who register their cell phone numbers at alert.uconn.edu.

“Text messages promise to be one of the fastest and most direct means of communicating, in the event a critical situation develops requiring an alert notification,” Feldman says. “Our goal is to notify people as quickly as possible when there is something they need to know.”

The text messages will be used on each of the University’s campuses except the Health Center.

Text messages are not the only new component of the alert system.

The Storrs, Greater Hartford and law school campuses will have siren systems. Sirens will both make a warning sound and deliver a short message instructing people what to do.

The Avery Point campus already has a siren owned by the Town of Groton that will be used in case of an emergency on that campus.

The Stamford, Waterbury, and Health Center campuses have intercom systems that will be used to deliver messages in an emergency.

The Code Blue phones located on every campus will be used to flash blue lights and deliver a short message about the emergency.

Also planned are systems to broadcast messages via classroom cable systems, and the use of voice mail, e-mail and the Web to update the community on a potentially threatening situation.

“We will have redundant systems so there are multiple ways to get the message out,” Feldman says.

“While we may not be able to reach every person directly, we hope that through one means or another, people will quickly find out what they need to know.”

The systems were put into place this summer after a committee, headed by Michael Kerntke, associate vice president and chief information officer, identified and evaluated the options.

Feldman appointed the committee last spring in response to the Virginia Tech tragedy.

The committee and an oversight committee included representatives of student affairs, human resources, communications, UITS, telecommunications, facilities operations, purchasing, the School of Law, academic affairs, the police department, orientation services, registrar, enrollment management, the Institute of Teaching and Learning (representing the regional campuses), and the Health Center.

“We have no way to predict if and when a critical situation will occur,” Feldman says, “but we need to be prepared for all types of emergencies, including severe weather problems such as a tornado and other situations.”

To register your cell phone number, visit alert.uconn.edu. Your NetID and password will permit you to enter your number.

In addition to cell phone registration, the web site alert.uconn.edu will serve as the primary Web resource for obtaining information during a crisis.

There are also frequently asked questions and answers about the program posted there.

Testing of all the equipment will be done periodically, and will be announced via e-mail and on the Web.


Listen to Barry Feldman describe UConn's crisis communications system.
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