In light of the recent tragedy at Wesleyan, we feel that this is a very appropriate topic to talk about. About three years ago, we contracted with a service called Connect ED for our Campus Emergency notification. Blackboard now own this service and it is being referred to also as “Blackboard Connect”. We activated this service during the recent campus emergency and what follows is a brief description of this service as well as the other ways in which we communicate during the campus emergencies.
Campus Phone Question
Many users continue to ask why is it that announcements including emergency communication cannot be sent to campus phones so that it “lights up”. We want to get this question out of the way first. The telephone switch and the voicemail system that we have are more than 15 years old. Whereas they work well for most of our telephony needs, there are some features that are simply not available in this system. Upgrading the system to have some of these features is a very expensive proposition and we have determined that strategically, this is not worth the investment at this time.
In terms of technology, “lighting” each phone extension in this system is a 2-3 second operation per extension (when nothing else is happening in the voicemail system). We have somewhere in the neighborhood of 1500 phone extensions that need to be “lit”. When this operation is being performed, the voicemail system will practically be unavailable. Also, the moment some users begin seeing the light, they are likely to try to access the voicemail. This has a cascading effect of lengthening the delivery process and frustration. I am sure you will agree that in an emergency, this model is not likely to work! This is precisely the reason why we do not want to “light up” the landlines on campus.
Bulletin broadcast delivery works differently and is fast, but unfortunately it does not light up your handset! Consequently, you may not be aware of the emergency message – until another voicemail message actually activates the light.
Our current procedure for campus emergency notification relies on updating the website as well as Connect ED. Connect ED can send the information to the recipients in different ways and most importantly fairly quickly. It can send voice messages to land line phones and cell phones, emails and text messages to cell phones. While all of these delivery mechanisms may look trivial, there is a lot that goes behind it. For example, Connect ED has special arrangement with Cell Phone providers so that the sudden blast of messages are not treated as some kind of SPAM.
This is the value they bring to the table – guaranteeing quick delivery through multiple communication channels and detailed reporting, so after the message has been sent, within a few minutes we know how many of our users listened to the message, how many let it go to the voicemail, how many wrong numbers etc. And doing it through an outside vendor has the ultimate advantage that it is not hurting our own resources which are likely to be very busy during such an emergency.
In order for this system to work accurately, the data that is used must be accurate. All faculty, students and staff have been reminded through email to update the emergency contact information in their respective Electronic Portfolios. We have even run some tests during the past three years to test how well the system works. The administration sent several messages through this system on May 6th and 7th. We felt that the overall success rate was excellent. Just so you know, we noticed some issues with email deliveries. We worked with them on Thursday, May 7th and resolved it.
As a part of the University’s Emergency Planning initiatives, the administration has designated staff members from Public Safety, Communications, and the Dean’s Office as the ones who are responsible for sending out these messages. They have been trained on the use of the system and it is Vice President for Student Affairs, Michael Whaley, who sent out all the messages during the recent crisis.
Of course, the University website is an important outlet for the information. Whereas Connect ED sends the information to your home or cell phone (Push), the website requires you to come there to look for information (Pull). Depending on where you are, one is better than the other. This is the reason why we try to disseminate the information in all possible ways. It is also the case that when there is a campus emergency, the web server and the network is going to be extremely busy. Though we try to do our best to make sure that the web server is responding, several unanticipated events take place that complicate our ability to manage this.
For example, during this recent episode, CNN published a Wesleyan URL on their story on Thursday, and we believe this generated additional hits on our server which slowed down the network performance. With the help of Connecticut Education Network (CEN), who is our network provider, we were able to increase the network bandwidth, which improved the performance.
Despite all of these planning, things don’t always go exactly as planned. Sometimes, we need to improvise and use the well tested low tech tools such as Word of Mouth. So, if you happen to receive the email before anyone else, please pass the word along, as accurately and calmly as possible, so that it reaches your colleagues and others in the vicinity.
Importance of keeping your Emergency Contact Information Accurate
We collect emergency contact information for everyone as described below. This information is sent to Connect ED once a day. It is therefore extremely important that you keep your emergency contact information accurate. Whenever the phone numbers or alternate email address where you wish to receive campus emergency changes, it is important to update the information.
- Undergraduate 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.
- Graduate Students can update their phone numbers and email addresses by visiting Enrollment, Holds and Addresses under my Enrollment status in the Graduate Student portfolio or by using the following link http://quicklink.wesleyan.edu/GRADved.
- GLSP 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.
- Faculty and Staff can update their campus-wide emergency numbers through the Personal Profile link in the Employee electronic portfolio or using the following link http://quicklink.wesleyan.edu/personal_profile.
In the Future
Obviously no one wants to see a campus emergency… But, being prepared for it something we all need to do. I am sure, we will get together and go over the procedures and refine them as needed. Please write any suggestions that you may have for us.