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MU officials urge campus to sign up for cell phone alerts

Tuesday, February 19, 2008 | 8:36 p.m. CST; updated 5:29 p.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

COLUMBIA — In the wake of Thursday’s shooting at Northern Illinois University, MU Chancellor Brady Deaton sent an e-mail to MU students, faculty and staff on Friday urging them to register for the campus emergency Mass Notification System. University of Missouri System President Gary Forsee followed with a system-wide e-mail on Tuesday, professing to register his first day on the job.

As of Friday afternoon, 3,726 faculty and staff and 4,382 students — or about 19 percent of the campus — had registered their phone numbers with the notification system, which sends warnings to participants via text message, e-mail, voice mail and fax.

The system debuted in December, and so far no alerts have been sent out, said Terry Robb, director of Internet technology with the university’s telecommunications department. They could be, though, in the event of bad weather, he said.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City has sent out two alerts so far, both weather-related. There was a problem with one sent on Feb. 6, though: a 20-minute delay between when the message was sent and when it was received.

“We’re trying to figure out why that was,” Robb said. “We’ll meet with the vendor (National Notification Network) on that soon.”

Robb said his department is evaluating ways the university can reach even more people if needed.

The Columbia-based company Purple Tree Technologies is currently developing a way to send a signal from a campus tower to all cell phones within its range, which would allow visitors on campus to also receive the warning. Another possibility is a private campus radio system, tested in November, or an emergency television broadcast sent over the campus cable network.

The system would warn of violence; weather and geological calamities; fires; or biological and mechanical threats.

Students can register their contact information on myZou, and faculty and staff can enroll through the employee information database at webapps.umsystem.edu. A phone or pager number is all that is necessary to register.

“We’re assuring people that we’re not going to use it in a mass mode except for emergencies,” Robb said. “So there is no reason not to (sign up).”

Columbia College has a crisis action plan that faculty have been rehearsing during the last two weeks, but the school does not have a campus-wide messaging system.

“We have a number of other communication plans in place using e-mail, using telephones, using other systems,” said Faye Burchard, dean of campus life at Columbia College.

“We’re still exploring that option,” she said of a campus-wide cell phone messaging system.


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