Eighteen months after a troubled young man murdered 32 students at Virginia Tech and then turned the gun on himself, OSU students, faculty and staff have an emergency communications system in place that could help prevent such a tragedy from ever happening here.
Over the summer, OSU and peer institutions around Oregon contracted with Blackboard Connect-ED to purchase its emergency alert system, which provides near instantaneous ability for the university to communicate with employees and students. The company was chosen after a telecommunications committee with representatives from campuses around the state evaluated more than 20 similar service providers.
OSU’s implementation of the system has already imported basic contact information for 26,000 individuals who work or study on the Corvallis, Bend and Newport campuses. Each person’s record can accommodate up to six telephone numbers, a text-messaging number and two e-mail addresses, raising the probability that, in the event of a campus emergency, an alert message will reach the individual no matter where he or she may be.
To access the Connect-ED portal and manage your record, faculty and staff should visit alert.oregonstate.edu and, on the left side of the page, select the “Enter your emergency contact information” link. Note: you’ll need your “onid” e-mail address and campus ID number to log in.
“While the system will be tested several times a year, it won’t be used for anything other than emergency communications – no ‘spam’ e-mail, promotion of university events, or regular announcements,” said Provost and Executive Vice President Sabah Randhawa, in an e-mail this week being sent to all OSU employees.
“Examples of events for which the system would be used include serious hazardous materials incidents, extreme weather events, and significant law enforcement matters. Contact information in the system will not be shared with or sold to other entities under any circumstance.”
While the OSU Emergency Management Committee had discussed campus alert systems prior to April 2007, efforts to acquire such a system took on new urgency after the Virginia Tech incident. In the wake of the shootings, officials at that university were most often criticized for their delay in informing campus that a crisis was in process.
A gubernatorial panel reviewing the incident concluded that the campus police department “erred in not requesting that … a campus-wide notification that two persons had been killed and that all students and staff should be cautious and alert” be issued. It further found that “senior university administrators … failed to issue an all-campus notification about the [initial] killings until almost 2 hours had elapsed” and that university practices around emergency communications “may have conflicted with written policies.”
“Those criticisms resonated with all of us who are charged with helping to keep our campuses safe,” said OSU Director of Public Safety Jack Rogers. “We all agreed that enhancing emergency communications was a priority that could not be postponed. Even so, we did our due diligence and chose a system that will be both reliable and effective, should we need to use it.”
Other OUS institutions joining OSU in launching Blackboard Connect-Ed this fall are Oregon Institute of Technology, Southern Oregon University and Eastern Oregon University; Portland Community College, Lewis & Clark College and Corban College and Graduate School have also joined the group. Other Oregon postsecondary institutions are considering acquiring the system (including Central Oregon Community College) and may do so, under the terms of the group agreement that was negotiated.
For more information on the alert system, see a list of frequently asked questions or contact Public Safety Director Rogers at 737-8321.
~ by Todd Simmons