Officials, Police Modify Emergency Alert System

Captian Rodney Chatman of UCPD. (The News Record/Alex Schroff)

More students than ever before will receive text message alerts from the University of Cincinnati in emergency situations.

After four shelter-in-place warnings sounded during fall semester, UC officials made changes to its opt-in system to alert students about crime.

Starting Wednesday, the default setting for the service will change so students automatically receive emergency text messages if their cell number is registered in the university’s system.  

Previously, students signed up for text message alerts through the OneStop website, but UC’s emergency text message alert system will be changed to an opt-out service for students, rather than an opt-in service.

The text message service, managed by UC Public Safety and UCIT, is only one part of the UC Emergency Alert System.

Nixle — a company with the technological capability to send a substantial amount of alerts at one time — powers the emergency text message service.

A text will be sent to students if there is an immediate threat to the safety and security of the campus community, or a weather-related university closing. 

“One of our problems right now is that because we [had] an opt-in program, we had very low participation. Only about 20 to 25 percent of the student population was participating in [emergency text message alert system],” said Jeff Corcoran, UCPD assistant police chief. “To me it seems logical that [the university] will give you emergency information, unless you tell us you don’t want it.”

Students can discontinue the emergency text message service, or change their information and preferences, through the OneStop website.

“While [students] will have the option to opt-out, the recommendation from the university is that they do not opt-out,” said Greg Hand, UC spokesperson.

The initiative to modify the emergency text message service began in Fall 2012 at the first president’s safety summit meeting.

The safety summit investigated technical aspects of the service, and took steps to ensure the text message system would not invade students’ privacy.

The undergraduate student government, along with the president’s safety summit, discussed the change at the latest Board of Trustees meeting. The trustees support sending out emergency text messages to as many students as possible, said Lane Hart, student body president.

“A lot of people don’t check their email on their phones, but they are going to be looking at their text messages. Having that real-time alert is really important so that people, if they are in immediate danger, can get out of it right away,” Hart said. “We don’t feel that people are going to ignore it because it is going to be used very sparingly.”

The administration is committed to only sending out text messages when the situation is relevant and the emergency is real.

“I think this is a great idea, as long as I’m not receiving texts from the university about things that aren’t necessary for my safety,” said Adriana Alvarez, a first-year graphic design student. “I wouldn’t want to get a text about someone’s laptop being stolen.”

The primary means of notifying students of an emergency on campus will continue to be voice announcements, which sound throughout buildings on campus.

“We have a couple of layers to this whole thing,” Corcoran said. “That gives us some resiliency; if one part of the [emergency alert system] doesn’t work, there are still other means of reaching out.”