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Txt msging cud save ur life, seriously.

By Archives April 1, 2008

Canadian universities from coast-to-coast are integrating text messaging into their emergency alert systems.
Newspapers in Halifax and at the University of Western Ontario are crediting Concordia with being trailblazers in this technology. While it is true that Concordia is the first Canadian university to have the technology in place, the system has yet to be put to the test.
In the wake of murders at Dawson College in the fall of 2006 and at Virginia Tech last spring, campuses across North America have been implementing new ways to send emergency messages to their academic communities. Text messaging is a popular choice.
The Universities of British Columbia, Calgary and New Brunswick, along with Dalhousie and Simon Fraser University have taken the technology into consideration. But Andrew McAusland, associate vice-president of Concordia’s Instructional and Information Technology Services, said campuses should not rely on text messages alone.
He sees potential danger in sending mass messages during an emergency. “Messaging in an emergency environment can be very difficult,” said McAusland. “You’ve got to be very judicious about how you communicate. The issue is reaching the exact people you need to reach, without reaching people you don’t need to.”
Sending out messages to the wrong people could create confusion, which would be a problem, said McAusland. This is why he said e-mail, the portal and the public address system – Concordia’s existing emergency communications systems – are better suited for the purpose.
Christine Mota, director of media relations at Concordia, said the school is testing the technology’s viability in emergency situations. “Luckily, though, we haven’t really had the chance to test it out in a real-life situation.”
In order to avoid sending messages to unconcerned parties and avoid unnecessary panic, the system would have to be segmented. McAusland explained that if one of the campus buildings needs to be evacuated, the message informing students of the appropriate procedures should only be sent to those who are actually in that building.
The dynamics of the student population challenge the overall efficiency of the system. “We have 10,000 new people entering the system every year, then six or eight thousand graduating,” said McAusland.
The system would have to be constantly updated in order to keep track of changing schedules and cell phone numbers.
“I can see the problems. But it’s still a good idea,” said Andrew Devine, a biology student at Concordia. “I think the good things about it outweigh the bad. It’s better to freak everybody out and save a few lives than to have students pouring into campus with no clue that there’s any sort of emergency,” he said.
Elyzabeth Deschenes, a classics student at Concordia, agreed. “It’s a good way to reach a lot of people at the same time. Everybody has a cell phone these days. I think it could save lives,” she said.
Both students said they are planning to sign up for next year.
Despite questions regarding its effectiveness in emergency situations, the technology has proven itself to be useful on campus. Students who sign up via the portal can receive text messages notifying them of class cancellations, grade issuing, room changes or shuttle bus schedules.
Last week the service was used to notify students of the possibility of pressure tactics from part-time staff. 4,798 students received the message on their cell phones, according to Mota. “At this point, the numbers are not huge,” she said.
She said the university wanted to get the kinks out and have the technology down pat before starting an intense campaign to encourage enrollment.
Having the maximum possible number of students enrolled is a vital step in making the text messaging system an efficient and viable way of alerting students in the event of an emergency.
The university is considering automatically enrolling every student for whom they have a cell phone number next fall. This is a way to get as many students registered in the system as possible. Once registered, students will have the option of unsubscribing.
To enroll in the text messaging service, go to your MyConcordia portal and click on the ‘messaging’ tab.