Text Message Alerts Could Save Lives in Emergency Situations

By: Robert Bentz

Text messaging to students at Virginia Tech would have been a better way to notify students of the horrors happening on campus.

The horrors of what happened in Blacksburg, Virginia on April 16 are now starting to come forward with chilling details. A great university is in mourning and a very safe city is starting to wonder if anywhere in the world is still safe.

As always seems to be the case in unprecedented situations, criticism is directed at public safety entities and the university's administrative leaders in what each could have done differently to help prevent or lessen this terrible tragedy.

Some of that criticism concerns the notification process of the student population at Virginia Tech. According to The Associated Press, while the first shooting was reported at 7:15 am, the first notification of students in Blacksburg was sent at 9:26 am by email. The horrific second shooting in Norris Hall occurred at 9:45 am and email notification was sent at 10:53 am.

Several reports concerned the difficulty in notifying students and teachers who were commuting to the campus during the morning hours. Certainly, email was not going to help these folks as they drove into the disaster.

Today, at work, our staff received a series of calls from public schools, private schools, community colleges, and universities who had been hastily assigned the task of finding a better solution for notification of students and parents should an unthinkable similar disaster occur at another school. That solution is text messaging--the quickest and most prevalent medium used by students today.

The sales team at the company discussed the early morning calls that were received in each of the three branch offices of the company in Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis. Obviously, there was an interest in our text message alert product. The debate, however, was whether the company should promote that product given the possibility that it might be interpreted that the company was taking advantage of a terrible tragedy for monetary gain. Certainly, that is not the object of this article.

After much debate, it was decided that if the product the company offers was able to save a life, then the company welcomes any such profiteering criticism that might come the company's way.

Certainly, based on the phone calls received at the office, and the reports on local radio news information station KYW, this tragedy has started several forward-looking academic institutions to analyze the way it sends timely messages to students. According to Philadelphia news station KYW's story, "Local Campuses Re-Evaluate Security Procedures," several regional universities are looking at how they would respond to a similar emergency.

KYW's Paul Kurz said: "Temple might be able to learn something from the events at Virginia Tech, including how to better communicate with students in times of emergency." Kurz went on to discuss the emergency response procedures in place in nearby West Chester--home of West Chester University.

The fact is that 84% of all Americans now have their cell phone on 24 hours a day and that cell phone is never more than a few feet from them. So, no matter where the students or university staff might be, the emergency message would reach them immediately. This is simply not the case with email.

Schools and universities need to keep a cell phone database, including carrier, of everybody associated with their institutions for emergency situations and be prepared to send text message blasts in emergency situations. It may be a life saver.

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