UM System working to boost involvement in telephone emergency notification plan

Monday, June 16, 2008 | 10:35 p.m. CDT; updated 3:29 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The University of Missouri System will try the direct approach in August to get more students, faculty and staff to enroll in the campus emergency notification system.

The alert system notifies subscribers of natural disasters and campuswide emergencies via cell phone calls and text messages. It was installed Dec. 3 and tested in November 2007.

As of June 6, less than a third of MU faculty and staff have signed up for cell phone calls and 15 percent for text messages. The most current numbers available for MU student subscriptions in the program are from April, when 20 percent of students had subscribed for phone calls and 8 percent for texts.

Terry Robb, MU’s Department of Information Technology director, said starting in the fall semester, students, faculty and staff will be able to sign up for the emergency notification via myZou, MU’s online student information application, at the start of each semester. He said the first time someone opens myZou each semester, a page will first offer them the option of choosing whether to enlist in the program, along with providing contact information if they would like to sign up. The system used now requires enrollment on a separate page in myZou.

“I suspect our numbers will go up,” Robb said. “Most schools that have implemented this kind of plan have seen better turnout.”

Although the new approach could boost numbers, Robb said students are still wary of volunteering their contact information.

“We need to assure the students that we’re not using the info for anything other than mass notification,” he said.

Robb said advertising and mass mail have not been effective.

“If the student is unaware of the mass notification system or just hasn’t gotten around to entering data, this is a method whereby we know they’ve been given a chance to participate,” Robb said.

Missouri Students Association President Jim Kelley said the new approach is the result of meetings with student, campus and university system leaders. Discussion of this type of solution has been going on since low enrollment rates became apparent.

“I think everyone involved with the institution (the UM system) wants to make sure students are safe, and so this wasn’t really a question of ‘if,’ but rather ‘when,’” said Kelley, referring to when the enhanced enrollment plan would take effect.

UM System spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said the discussion reached the system level because of concern over low student enrollment systemwide. The other campuses in the UM system are also experiencing lower-than-expected subscription rates.

Although the new plan should increase subscription rates, it still leaves open the option of saying no. Requiring enrollment wasn’t the best choice, Robb said.

“Requiring data entry is too harsh an approach,” Robb said, pointing out that some students, faculty and staff don’t have cell phones.

Kelley said the new enrollment system should provide for a safer campus while still affording the choice of whether to subscribe.

“I‘m confident that we’ll make all students safer through this enhanced enrollment, and that’s the goal,” he said in an e-mail. “We’d also like to provide students with some flexibility. This plan allows us to achieve both while still fulfilling our responsibility to enhance safety and communication in an emergency.”

David Reilly, MU’s senior coordinator of new student programs, said Summer Welcome leaders are encouraging incoming freshmen to sign up during their visits to campus at three different points: after the morning registration, during small group sessions and at evening information sessions for parents regarding campus safety and emergency preparedness.

Summer Welcome for freshmen began June 10 and will continue through July 10.

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