SMS, PDA, ‘Gate is A-OK

Peggy Collins

In an e-mail sent on Thursday, April 19, President Chopp expressed the University’s sadness regarding the Virginia Tech shootings. She also announced that the University has recently purchased a web-based program that will send emergency notification to cell phones, PDAs, Blackberry devices and home telephones — all numbers associated with the Colgate community. The program, called e2Campus, was purchased late last fall and will hopefully be ready to run this summer for employees and students.

“The purpose of the program is to supplement ways in which we already communicate with the Colgate community,” said Director of Campus Safety Gary Bean. “In a crisis situation, the question we ask ourselves is how to get the message out quickly; this is just another tier in the process.”

Ways in which Campus Safety already communicates with the community include mass distribution e-mails, the Colgate Portal and website, as well as human notification through RAs and personal contacts. The new program provides the ability to create text and e-mail messages, which can be sent to system subscribers.

Employees will be required to subscribe to the program and students will be encouraged to register. In order to register, one must provide e-mail addresses, cell phone numbers and carriers. This list will be consistently updated.

The program will send a pre-recorded message to home telephone numbers of employees in case of emergency. This is important because, while most students have cell phones, not all employees do. One may receive the notification in several forms, including text messages, e-mails, portal notifications, etc., but Campus Safety prefers that employees are notified several times rather than not at all.

The addition of another communication layer will be helpful in the future. It will most likely have a permanent place on the Colgate Portal where students, employees and other members of the community can check for updates. Campus Safety has been working with ITS to make this a reality in the near future.

When asked if Colgate has any type of early warning system, Bean said, “We do not have a siren as it is too early for a sort of decision like that. E2Campus is in its testing phase this week and has made significant progress.”

The Virginia Tech shootings encouraged Campus Safety to test this program, and other campuses have contacted Bean for advice on what they should do.

Bean cited a change in technology as one of the reasons for the shift. The program responds to the fact that text messaging is prevalent on college campuses and the costs of programs with these technologies have decreased. In previous years, Colgate provided students with on-campus phones in their dorm rooms. Since today most students do not use their campus landlines and instead rely on their cell phones, one line of communication has been lost.

Some colleges are better prepared than others — Midwestern colleges that experience frequent tornados and other colleges that face natural disasters on a semi-regular basis, are some examples. Colgate has made emergency communication a priority in light of the Virginia Tech shootings.

“This program is just another piece in the intricate web of communication needed to inform members of the community of emergencies,” Bean said.