Inland colleges find ways to spread emergency information

Inland colleges find ways to spread emergency information, September 23rd, 2007

By SHIRIN PARSAVAND The Press-Enterprise

Students at some Inland colleges soon could find out more quickly about danger or disruption on their campuses.

UC Riverside and the University of Redlands both plan to begin using mass notification systems to contact students and staff more quickly in the case of an emergency. Other Inland campuses are looking at the systems as well because of concerns raised by the mass shooting at Virginia Tech last April.

UCR should be able to start sending text messages through the system by early October, said Charles Rowley, associate vice chancellor for computing and communications. The school, where classes start Thursday, wanted to publicize the system and get students signed up after everyone had settled into their campus routines, Rowley said.

UCR will spend $30,000 per year on the system offered by the company 3n, the same one Virginia Tech began using after a mentally ill student killed 32 people and himself. Eventually, UCR plans to use the system to send automated phone messages and e-mail as well as text messages.

While the college won't charge a fee to sign up students and staff, some might be dissuaded from enrolling because they must pay their cell phone service to receive text messages, Rowley said. But even those who don't sign up will benefit, he said.

"You contact person A, person A contacts three people ... the social networking really pushes the information out," Rowley said. Students can sign up for the mass notification system using the same Web site they use to register for classes and view grades.

Several students on campus last week said they at least would consider registering their phones for the system. But some said they wanted to know more, such as what situations would justify text messages or calls.

"E-mail is good enough" for many situations, junior Ashlan Cornett said. "A phone call would become bothersome or irritating."

University at Redlands is still looking into notification systems, but it wanted to get something in place for the current school year, said Cory Nomura, director of administrative services.

The college signed a one-year, $13,500 contract with ConnectEd, which also sends out text messages, voice messages and e-mail. It plans to have the system running within the next month, Nomura said.

Cal State San Bernardino and California Baptist University in Riverside also are looking into the systems, officials at those colleges said.

At Cal State San Bernardino, campus police stepped up their training in response to the Virginia Tech massacre, said David DeMauro, vice president of administration and finance. The police went through training with the city police, sheriff's department and California Highway Patrol on how to deal with someone who has a gun, he said.

The school also has a committee, including human resources staff and counselors, looking into what information faculty and staff can share with one another about a student who is troubled. The Virginia Tech gunman showed signs of mental illness to various people through his behavior and writing.

"Our people have been working together in a way that we've never been working together before," DeMauro said.

Some college officials said they have heard concerns about safety as students return to campus.

But at University of Redlands, Char Burgess, campus vice president and dean of student life, said she didn't hear as many questions from students and parents as she expected. The size of the campus, which enrolls 2,450 students, reassures some parents, she said.

"People said one of the reasons we want our children to go to a school like Redlands is because you know what's going on with students," she said.


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