New emergency text message system reaches 32,000 people in minutes

Photo illustration by Lincoln Op’t Hof

On March 2, members of the UVU community received a text alert about a person of interest on UVU Campus. The text alert was distributed by a new system that university administrators implemented in early fall of 2017.

The new system was able to send out the message to about 32,000 recipients within two  minutes, according to UVU director of Emergency Management and Environmental Health and Safety, Robin Ebmeyer.

The capability of this new text system is a significant improvement to the previous text alert system, Ebmeyer said. The old system took up to two to three  hours to reach all recipients in the system. The old system was also opt-in, so at peak enrollment, there were about 9,000 recipients in the system.

The administration worked to improve the previous system with a lot of success and increased capability, but the progress was not enough, Ebmeyer said.

The new system, which is provided by a company called Rave, automatically draws names and phone numbers from UVU Banner and Canvas services to increase the recipient pool, according to Ebmeyer.

According to the Rave: Mobile Safety website, the company currently provides the service to 1,400 higher education institutions and over 40 percent of the college student population in the United States.

“The University is more likely to send out messages… about an incident or pre-incident with the campus community than [it is] to hold back information until we have all the details,” Ebmeyer said.

Ebmeyer acknowledged that there might be some resistance to sending messages that lack complete detail, but for the safety of the community, it is worth getting the initial alert out as quickly as possible.

Kara Owen, an art history senior and UVU employee, was uncertain about what to look for because of lack of detail in the initial alert.

“It was a little confusing because it didn’t have very many details, so I was like ‘I have no idea what I am supposed to look out for,’” Owen said.

Although the first message lacked specific details about the situation, Owen saw the value in being made aware so she could be more alert as she went about her day on campus.

“I think as soon as you know something is up, send information, and then if you know more, send us more information,” Owen said. “I think it is totally okay to alert us and just be like ‘Hey, be on the lookout.’ At the same time, what do we do until then?”

Ebmeyer and Owen also spoke about additional methods used for alerting the UVU community, such as email and an internal computer alert system that notifies faculty and staff through university computers. According to Ebmeyer, the administration uses several methods to reach as much of faculty, staff and students as possible.

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