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Wesleyan Tests New Emergency Notification System

Olivia DrakeOctober 16, 20077min

Posted 10/16/07
In the event of catastrophic weather, accidents that threaten the campus or other life-threatening situations, Wesleyan has furthered its capabilities to inform the campus community quickly and effectively.

A recently-implemented Emergency Preparedness Notification System was tested university-wide on Oct. 10. The emergency notification system alerts students, parents, faculty and staff of serious campus-wide emergencies.

“If Wesleyan has an extended power outage, an incident requiring mass evacuation, or possibly a hostage situation, we will use this system to quickly notify the Wesleyan community,” says Cliff Ashton, director of Physical Plant and chairperson of Wesleyan’s Business Continuity Committee.

Wesleyan has had an emergency preparedness plan prior to 2000, but the new, expanded system includes considerations for long term recovery and on-going business continuity for the university following a major emergency. As a result, the Business Continuity Committee developed the Emergency Preparedness Notification System.

“The need for an expansion in the plan’s scope became apparent to colleges across the U.S. following hurricane Katrina in New Orleans where operations for several universities came to a halt for extended periods, severely challenging the on going viability of those institutions,” Ashton explains.

Wesleyan began implementing the new system in March of 2007. This notification system contacts regular phones, cell phones and e-mail addresses through a Web-based system provided by Connect-Ed. This system is designed specifically for electronic messaging at colleges and universities.

The system notification occurs by voice message to regular telephones or cell phones that students, faculty, and staff identify in the emergency contact listing in their portfolio. Consequently, once someone have been informed of an emergency through e-mail, home phone or cell phone. Employee’s voice mail box will serve as a secondary source of information.

“We needed a way to get campus-wide electronic emergency messages out quickly and reliably,” explains Steve Machuga, director of administrative systems and member of the Business Continuity Committee.

Machuga says the new system is still undergoing some inherent technical and human difficulties with trying contact 4,000 students, staff, faculty and parents as simultaneously as possible. The test on Oct. 10 revealed some problems, such as getting messages past spam filters and simplifying the e-mail format. Machuga and his colleagues are currently addressing these problems.

“We’ve gotten a lot of good information and encouragement through the Emergency Notification Confirmation, which we requested, and we’ve responding to all of them,” Machuga says. “We are moving forward because this is very important for the Wesleyan community.”

The possibility of adding text messaging to the system is being investigated, and additional protocol for the types of notifications that will be sent through the system is under consideration.

In order for the system to work, students, their parents and Wesleyan staff and faculty must update their contact information.

Students can update their phone numbers and their parents’ phone numbers by visiting the Enrollment, Hold & Addresses link in the student portfolio or by navigating to the following http://quicklink.wesleyan.edu/ved.
Faculty and staff can update their campus-wide emergency numbers through the Personal Profile link in the electronic portfolio or using the following link http://quicklink.wesleyan.edu/personal_profile.

Graduate students can update their phone numbers and e-mail addresses by visiting Enrollment, Holds and Addresses under my Enrollment status in your portfolio or by using the following link http://quicklink.wesleyan.edu/GRADved.

Graduate Liberal Studies Program students can update their phone numbers by visiting the “Address Verification Tab” of the “GLSP On-Line Registration” in your portfolio or by using the following link http://quicklink.wesleyan.edu/GLSPreg.

The Business Continuity Committee has also proposed low-tech options such as using Public Safety officers and their vehicles or limited public announcement systems to alert people of emergencies.

The following members of the Business Continuity Committee helped implement the new system: Ashton, Machuga, Anna van der Burg, registrar; Camille Dolansky, associate director of Parent Programs; Eloise Glick, faculty resource specialist; Justin Harmon, vice president for Public Affairs; Fran Koerting, director of Residential Life; David Meyer, director of Public Safety; David Pesci, director of Media Relations, and Dan Pflederer, human resources management systems functional specialist; Ganesan Ravishanker, associate vice president for Information Technology Services; and Mike Whaley, dean of student services and interim dean of the college.

The committee plans to test the system at regular intervals. Staff will also routinely review Wesleyan’s preparedness procedures to ensure that the university maintains the safest possible campus.

A team of staff members is also currently updating Wesleyan’s emergency response plan in order to comprehend more recent threats, such as the possibility of a pandemic contagion, and to ensure consistency with protocols established in the National Incident Management System created by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This same team recently conducted a training drill implementing Wesleyan’s plan in conjunction with the City of Middletown police, fire, and health departments.

By Olivia Drake, Wesleyan Connection editor