UC Berkeley Implements Emergency Alert System

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UC Berkeley will kick off a new campus-wide notification service today, alerting students, faculty and staff of emergencies via phone and online messages.

The new alert system, known as WarnMe, allows students to prioritize and choose how they would like to be reached during an emergency. Methods include text messaging, calls to both cell and home phones and e-mail alerts.

The campus or UCPD would use the system to alert people of a natural disaster, crime or other threat, and would also provide information as to what people should do.

"Urgent: Shooting reported south of campus. No students or employees involved. Suspect in custody," would be a message the system might send, according to the WarnMe FAQ.

However, the notification program is an opt-in system, meaning students must sign up for the service if they wish to be contacted, said Captain Margo Bennett of UCPD. Students can currently sign up for the service through a link on the BearFacts Web site or by accessing warnme.berkeley.edu.

To this date, more than 8,700 people have already signed up for the program, Bennett said.

"Opt-in systems are the best practice based on the other institutions we've queried," she added, noting that having multiple means of contacting people was more effective than requiring individuals to list one single method.

The service is additional to existing measures, including a campus-wide siren, an emergency Web site and an 800-number students can call in case of an emergency.

While the system is meant for emergencies, it would also be used if the campus itself was in no immediate danger, but if many students were in need of information, said campus spokesperson Marie Felde. She cited as an example the 1991 Oakland Hills wildfires when this alert system would have been useful.

Concerns about campus communication were raised last September after students heard multiple rumors of a shooting on campus. The incident turned out to be an armed robbery in which BB gun shots were fired, according to campus police.

To make the system as current as possible, participants can also update their contact information at any time, and updates will be effective in the system within 24 hours.

Currently, only students, faculty and staff can sign up for the alerts, but campus officials may later enable enrollment by parents and other individuals outside the immediate campus community.

UC Berkeley is not the only campus with such an alert system. UC Davis and Vanderbilt University also have similar notification systems.

Bennett said it was important to start this program to establish better technology with which to contact the campus community in urgent situations.

"We're always looking for better ways to communicate," Bennett said.

Felde said the system was an important and necessary step for the campus to alert and inform students and staff.

"Certainly after the incident at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois University there was a call at universities around the country for this kind of system," she said.


Contact Valerie Woolard at [email protected]

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