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Text-messaging system alerts ASU community


March 22, 2009

The blast that reverberated through Sun Devil Stadium on March 10 was only a drill, but the exercise demonstrated the need to alert the ASU community of an emergency.

Faux “ASU Alert” text messages were crafted that day as part of the Coyote Crisis exercise as they would be during a real emergency.

“Hosting the Coyote Crisis emergency drill on the Tempe campus demonstrated the importance of text messaging as one method to alert the ASU community during a real incident,” says Morgan R. Olsen, executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer and ASU’s chief emergency policy executive. “We strongly encourage ASU community members to sign up for the text-message alert system as part of our multi-layered emergency notification strategy, so they can receive valuable safety information during an actual emergency.”  

Those who have been through emergencies at their schools realize the importance of an emergency text-messaging system.

When back-to-back hurricanes bore down on the Gulf of Mexico during the fall of 2008, officials at Delgado Community College, with locations in and around New Orleans, relied on text messaging as a method to update their students, faculty and staff as the storms approached.

After the college’s hurricane emergency plan was activated for Hurricane Gustav, text messages were sent to inform the college community of updates such as when the school was closing as the storm neared landfall and a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans took effect.

“You want to make sure that people have as much advance notice as possible,” says Carol Gniady, Delgado Community College executive director of Public Affairs and Information. 

Text messages also were sent to students, faculty and staff to also let them know that campus was reopening. “We were closed for a week,” Gniady says.

Only two days had passed after operations for Hurricane Gustav were wrapped up when Hurricane Ike became a factor and the college’s emergency response team reconvened. Text messages were used again in conjunction with e-mail alerts, web site updates and reports from the media to inform the community.

“It was a much smaller storm than Hurricane Gustav,” Gniady says.

If an emergency occurs at Arizona State University, students, faculty and staff who subscribe to the university’s emergency text-message alert system can find out information such as areas to avoid, buildings affected and street closures. Other methods that emergency responders use to alert the community include door-to-door notifications reverse 911 calls, emergency hotline updates and web page updates.

Although ASU Alert text messages were not actually sent out during the Coyote Crisis drill, texts that would be issued in a real emergency would spell out specific safety information or instructions, enabling individuals to take appropriate action if needed.

The ASU Alert: Emergency Text Service system is an opt-in service that is used in case of a major emergency on one of ASU’s campuses or in the immediate vicinity. To sign up for the emergency text message alert system, go to www.asu.edu/alert. An ASURITE ID and password is needed to sign up. Text message charges may apply depending on individual cell phone plans. For a comprehensive look at ASU’s emergency plans, go to the university’s Web site at www.asu.edu/emergency.