U of C introduces emergency text messaging system

By Sara Hanson

Following tragic school shootings at two North American institutions last year–Dawson College and Virginia Tech–the University of Calgary has implemented a new communication initiative to warn students about emergencies on campus sooner.

Students are encouraged to sign up for a new text messaging alert system that will be used along with the current e-mail system to issue security alerts, explained campus security director Lanny Fritz.

“It’s all born out of the Virginia Tech tragedy,” said Fritz. “We looked at this incident to see if there was any lessons [to be] learned, and what seems to be obvious is that communication is going to be a challenge. Keeping the students [at Virginia Tech] informed was an issue.”

Fritz stressed text messages will only be sent to students in situations involving life safety issues or to warn about serious campus disruptions, such as a closure due to a big snow storm.

The Students’ Union was not directly involved in the consultation project and SU president Julie Bogle noted they will have to wait to see if the new system is effective.

“This is a good preventative measure,” she said. “But, it’s important that it’s the student’s choice whether they want to sign up because it’s a private cell phone number.”

Bogle added the SU is currently adjusting their student-survey to gauge priorities when it comes safety on campus. The survey will be on the SU’s website later this year.

Will Sasges, a second-year U of C student, said he would not sign up for the text messaging alert system.

“I feel pretty safe [on campus], but I think that’s because I am a guy, so I really don’t have anything to worry about,” said Sasges. “Maybe in some situations text messaging might come into play, but I don’t think there is too much to worry about.”

Second-year student Mandy Ediger disagreed, saying she thought the new system was a good idea.

“I do think it would be good to know if there are crazy people running around,” she said. “Especially if you have a night class and are walking to your car and you got a notification that something happened on campus in one of the parking lots, you would be able to avoid it.”

The text messaging alert system was set up through Rogers Communications for an initial cost of $3,400 and will cost $2,400 per year, plus 25 cents per text message to operate. While the operating cost will be taken out of campus security’s annual budget, Fritz stressed cost is a non-issue.

“We don’t anticipate having a lot of these go out,” said Fritz. “But when they do go out, it will be money well spent.”

Students, staff and faculty can use their cell phone number to sign up for the alert system through the MyUofC portal.

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