How to Use Campus Alert Systems

While I was waiting for my plane to take off a few days ago, I got a message from my campus alert system saying that the power was out, so classes may be impacted. While I may not have been on campus at the time, I was happy that I had been notified about what was going on, as opposed to being left in the dark (no pun intended). Today I will be talking more about campus emergency alert systems, and why you should make sure you are signed up for alerts.

What is a campus alert system?

A campus alert system sends out information to students, faculty, and staff during an emergency. In order for information to be sent out, it must meet several different criteria, including:

  • Appearing to be an immediate threat to health, safety, or security
  • Resulting in a potential disruption of campus operations
  • Potentially attracting large emergency personnel or media presence

Sometimes, students may be updated about emergencies after the fact by email or phone, but these emails may not be part of the campus alert system. Some emergencies may not require alerts, like fire alarms- read more about fire alarms on campus here.

Examples of alerts

Some examples of alerts I have gotten included snowstorm warnings, tornado warnings, a gas leak, power outages, suspicious person on campus, and a bomb threat. My friends at other colleges have received alerts about horses that escaped, a rabid animal, large police and media presence for a crime scene near campus, and a series of suspicious packages. Alerts often start with describing the emergency, followed by giving students instructions on what to do. Below, I have copied an example of an alert I received:

A Severe Weather system is traveling through the area impacting all campuses, site, and centers. Please monitor your local television and radio stations for more information.

  • Locate and take shelter in hardened structure.

  • Stay away from large loose objects such as bookcases, cabinets, or shelves

  • Do not use elevators

  • Remain in the shelter area until the severe weather has passed

The university is asking faculty to be flexible with late arrivals to exams schedule this evening due to this weather.  Students and employees should exercise caution and safety while the severe weather is present.

Additional information is available via weather Radio, local TV station or online at www.noaa.gov.

How often do you get alerts?

My college has strict criteria as to what triggers the alert system, so I probably get two or three alerts a semester, and have never felt like they sent out an alert for no reason. While I wasn’t overly thrilled to get calls at 4 am saying class was canceled during winter break (when no classes were in session anyway), I appreciated that they gave students information about dealing with the snowstorm that triggered the original alert. Speaking of snowstorms, read more about staying warm with a blindness cane here.

Am I automatically enrolled?

At my college, students are not automatically signed up for alerts and must sign up manually on the emergency preparedness website. This process takes less than two minutes, but may have to be repeated yearly depending on your college.

How to sign up for emergency alerts

To sign up for emergency alerts, find your college's emergency preparedness website, or run a web search with your college name and the phrase "emergency alert." From there, students can find instructions to sign up for alerts with their campus email and phone number, and can sign their parents up for alerts as well. I also recommend adding your personal email to ensure you receive alerts.

Add emergency numbers to your phone

Make sure to add emergency phone numbers to your phone before you actually need them. I keep phone numbers for police, neighborhood desk, emergency services, and the alert/information contact info. It's also worth noting addresses for these places- read about 15 addresses to memorize before college starts here.

Familiarize yourself with on campus emergency procedures

Each campus has their own guidelines for handling emergencies that include plans for sheltering in place, evacuating buildings, and similar. There are posters with this information spread across dorm halls, but people with vision impairments are not likely to be able to read it. For this reason, I suggest going to your campus' emergency preparedness website to learn more about how to deal with individual incidents. For incidents that may require evacuation, read my post about evacuating a dorm room here.

Should my parents sign up?

My parents signed up to get phone and text alerts so they could stay up to date as what is going on. They signed up using the guest option on the alert website, since they do not have university login credentials. While the aforementioned 4 am phone calls might not always be pleasant, they prefer to know what is going on instead of hearing it from me later on. During emergencies, they often encourage me to call security escorts so that I can get around safely- read more about calling a security escort here.

Have a plan to handle emergencies on campus

While emergency alerts often include instructions on how to handle a particular emergency, it helps to have a plan about what to do beforehand. For example, if I get an alert about an upcoming snowstorm, I make sure that I can shelter in place and that I have enough food- read about the ten foods I take from the dining hall here. If it's an alert about a tornado or suspicious person, I clean out an area in my first floor dorm room that I can hide in. And if the power goes out, I follow the tips in my post about power outages here. 

Encourage your friends to sign up for alerts

During my freshman year, so many of my friends didn't sign up for phone alerts because they figured they knew other people who would tell them the same information. Since almost every phone plan now includes texting, it doesn't cost anything to sign up for emergency alerts that could potentially save your life, or at least let you know that class is cancelled. I make sure that my friends know I can help them sign up for alerts if needed, though I also encourage them to do it themselves- this connects back to my post on important technology skills for college, which you can read more about here.

Stay calm

This blog post is not a replacement for advice from emergency personnel, nor is it meant to make people think that there will constantly be emergencies on campus. By knowing what to do beforehand and ensuring you receive information in a timely manner, it's easy to stay calm, or at least stay calmer. Knowing how to use campus emergency alert systems is an important transition/college preparedness skill that I highly recommend familiarizing yourself with.

 

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