How Campus Alerts Work

Building Alert Networks

Colleges can use on-site equipment to reach students.
Colleges can use on-site equipment to reach students.
© Photographer: Jaimie Duplass | Dreamstime

When college freshmen show up for orientation, they're deluged with information and forms to fill out, from registering for meals to turning their dorm room Internet access on. At some colleges and universities, students are now asked to complete another task: signing up for campus alerts.

Modern campus alert systems seek to integrate the latest communications technology into a comprehensive network that'll act as a conduit for critical information to pass back and forth. Much of the process, however, relies on those freshmen opting in to the system by filling out the required paperwork and providing their cell-phone numbers, e-mail addresses and other information.

A Ball State University news release stated at least 90 percent of college students have cell phones, making this an important number to include in the alert system database. Without these critical contact addresses, modern campus alert systems lose much of their value.

Students and employees often have at least two ways of signing up for direct alerts. They can text message the system with the required information or go online and type it into a Web page.

When registering online, the person usually is asked for a username and password, which can be used later to log on and change the contact information if needed. The service often will send a verification message right away, so the cell phone and/or e-mail inbox should be on and ready. You may also have to send back a verification code to ensure the system is turned on.

When signing up, participants often can choose to receive text message, e-mail or both. They can also register several phone numbers or e-mails.

Integrating Alert Systems

The telecommunications industry helps colleges, universities, businesses and other organizations operate integrated alert systems. Companies such as e2Campus, Omvox Telecom Corp., 3n, Ed-Alert, MessageOne and Mobile Campus are just a few mentioned in news reports during the last few months.

Such vendors face significant challenges, not the least of which are mating old standard alert systems -- loudspeakers, media and centralized phone systems -- with new technology. Network designers must make it simple for campus safety officials to plug into existing hard-wired communications infrastructures while also including wireless and other technologies. With wireless networks, there are sometimes cross-carrier issues to tackle. The designers also must make the system easy to use for both parties -- the sender and receiver -- so that the campus community can have confidence in using it should a crisis arise.

Once a network is created, it also must be organized so that officials can send alerts or information to segmented audiences, such as students, faculty, individual buildings and work groups. Sending messages to students' parents and the media require special attention, as well.

On the next page, we'll talk about how alerts are sent.