SA calls for improvements to emergency text alert system

By Felix Sarver

While some students feel the NIU text alert system is making progress, the Student Association University Services committee continues to look into the program.

The committee was satisfied that text alerts were sent out after the shooting death of Steven Agee II, but they noticed some areas where the alerts could be improved.

“The problem we had originally, before the recent shooting, was that the philosophy of the police department was to use text alerts in situations that were imminent dangerous threats to the campus,” SA Senator Mike Theodore said.

There is a two-tiered system to emergency alerts, said Paul Palian, director of media and public relations.

Advisory emergency information is used for notifications of incidents not posing imminent and verifiable threats to the campus.

The alert emergency information is used for notifications posing imminent and verifiable threats to the campus. NIU Police Sgt. Alan Smith said examples include shootings, a person armed with a knife and openly-exposed hazardous materials. Text alerts are used for the alert emergency system.

Theodore said the fact that no text alerts were sent after the Sept. 28 shooting near Lucinda Avenue bothered him.

The text alerts sent out by the police after the Agee’s shooting was good, Theodore said. However, he believes there’s a problem with people not receiving the text alerts. Theodore said a few students did not receive the text alerts after the shooting incident.

Students not getting text alerts promptly may be more of an issue with their cellphone coverage or cellphone provider than with the NIU text alert system, Palian said.

Ninety-five percent of text alerts delivered within five minutes is considered an excellent score for any campus or venue with a text alert system, said Brad Hoey, director of communications and marketing for NIU.

“We’ve had situations in the past that required text alerts,” Hoey said. “We have either hit the 95 percent or have exceeded that.”

The Department of Police and Public Safety has not received any complaints about not receiving text alerts, Smith said.

“Nobody called to say, ‘We’ve didn’t receive a text message,'” Smith said.

The text alert system should be used more often, Theodore said. Not every problem on campus merits text alerts, but it is important for students to know what steps the police are taking to deal with that problem, Theodore said.

However, not every bit of information can fit in the text alerts, Smith said.

“Constantly having the text alerts go off desensitizes people,” Smith said.