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It’s an Emergency, Please Pick Up the Phone

October 7, 2007

533264398_1f829b5b18 According to, St. John’s University, has, in the wake of this year’s shooting at Virginia Tech, followed the lead of seemingly most universities in instituting an SMS-based text alerting system.  They then got to test the system on Wednesday, September 27th when a gunman was arrested and there were reports of a second assailant stalking the campus.

From the accounts given on this post, the system worked as advertised.  At 2:30, the gunman was apprehended and at 2:38 the IS technician pressed the “send” button.  One of the students involved in subduing the gunman reportedly felt his cell phone vibrate after receiving the message while physically holding the gunman down.  One commenter complained that he didn’t receive the message until 2:45 – when he received three messages after his class ended, and he presumably left the apparently lead-shielded room.  More than 2,000 students were signed up before the incident, and by the end of the afternoon, more than 6,500 were signed up.  This is a quick and dirty testament to how valuable the students most directly affected found the text messages – nearly 4,500 students in the space of a few hours felt they had to be party to those messages their friends were receiving.

I’m sure this story will warm the heart of my friend, Gerald Baron, who blogs pretty regularly on these type of issues – besides doing exactly this type of work every day.  He’s my resident expert, so you know.   Check out his blog, Crisisblogger here.

I think this is a great idea to institute and build into our everyday activities.  I’ve been under a tremendous amount of pressure at work to institute something similar in response to Virginia Tech, but the fact that some places have integrated a system – and used it successfully – into their workaday is even more impetus to get this done.

Those among you who think critically (or pessimists, as we call you), should be asking right now, where’s the catch?  Well, the catches that I’ve seen are thus:  you have to pay to receive those emergency messages (unless your kids have signed you up for a text messaging plan), not everyone has a cell phone and won’t receive every message (but everyone else in the world will have received it – in fact, one of the commenters mentioned just that, noting the, “the ‘tell a friend’ or ‘tell the people around you’ component”), and finally the possibility of being spammed on one’s cell phone – receiving non-emergency messages.  Well, that last one can be a deal-breaker, I think.  Well-written protocols and multiple levels of alerting should take care of that and assure that folks only get the messages that they need.

Photo credit: avidday

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Michael permalink
    October 7, 2007 11:59 am

    It’s good to see this stuff at work. I noted earlier on my blog that Simon Fraser University in British Columbia put out an RFP for a mass SMS system.

    As a student, the one thing I could see being a problem is being spammed, or being notified constantly of less-than-life-threatening events.

    I guess watching how institutions adopt and adapt with this technology will make the picture clearer.

  2. October 9, 2007 9:11 am


    Thanks for stopping by. As noted above, those things really could kill this effort. I have hope, though, because this technology is being implemented as an emergency tool, it will resist the universities never-ending need to market themselves.

    Though as you say, I guess we’ll see.

    Thanks again!


  1. The Flip Side of Emergency Alerting « In Case of Emergency

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