MU looking for new vendor to run alert system

Thursday, May 16, 2013 | 6:21 p.m. CDT; updated 7:22 p.m. CDT, Thursday, May 16, 2013

COLUMBIA — MU plans to begin using a new alert system when its contract with the current provider expires Aug. 27. 

The committee in charge of selecting the new system has been sending proposals to several vendors as part of a standard process. Terry Robb, MU's director of information technology, said in an email that the committee is looking for a system that is hosted on the vendor's servers and doesn't require downtime for maintenance.

MU also wants a system that can deliver alerts to a variety of devices in times of emergency. The proposal requires that the vendor be able to deliver via email, landline phones, cell phones, smartphones, pagers and devices for the deaf. AT&T, Blackboard, Everbridge, Send Word Now, and MIR3 are among the vendors that have responded to the proposal. The current provider, Cooper Notification, has also applied.

Cooper Notification has had "issues" delivering text messages and building its contact database, Robb said. There's also been a problem with carriers blocking its messages as spam. 

MU Police Chief Jack Watring said there have also been concerns expressed about the speed of the notifications. The delayed notifications "could affect the safety of the whole campus," he added. 

"We are just not satisfied with the service we are getting," Watring said.

The current system allows students to opt in to receive text message alerts, Robb said. Over 48,843 total people use the alert system including faculty, staff and students. This includes the 23,102 people who use the text messaging service. 

Keri Petty, an MU freshman who lives in Campus View Apartments, said she's worried about the alert system's coverage of off-campus students. During the statewide tornado drill March 5, she didn't receive an alert.

It wasn't the first alert she didn't receive this year. She also didn't get campus closure notices for the MU snow days in February.

“I don’t even get most of the alerts,” Petty said. “The fact that we are the last to know could really affect how we prepare.”

Petty said she wants MU to use a system that can immediately send alerts to all wireless internet users.

The current system scans the National Weather Service for emergency alerts. When an alert is activated for Boone County, the system automatically sends a message by text, phone, and email to all subscribers in emergency situations, MU spokesman Christian Basi said. 

From 2007 to 2010, MU used Everbridge, a mass notification company, to send its alerts, and it worked fine, Robb said. When the contract with Everbridge expired, MU signed a $78,000 per year contract with Cooper Notification. MU chose Cooper Notification because it was better suited to fulfill the university's requirements, Basi said.

The new system is estimated to cost the University of Missouri System $77,000 per year. Funding will continue to come from each campus' budget based on a faculty, staff, student headcount, Robb said.

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