Campus-wide alert system tested

The campus community received an onslaught of alarms, loudspeaker announcements, text messages and emails on Wednesday Oct. 30 as part of the annual fall testing of the NY-Alert and Emergency Communications system. This year the tests were especially important due to the recent installation of the new indoor and outdoor loudspeaker system on campus. Geneseo installed this system before the start of the fall 2013 semester. It is composed of four outdoor speaker towers on Schrader Hall, Putnam Hall, the Integrated Science Center and Niagara Hall, and three internal speakers inside Merritt Athletic Center, Mary Jemison Dining Hall and Brodie Hall.

According to Dean of Students Leonard Sancilio, the State University of New York system required all of its campuses to review and update security procedures following the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings. Shortly after the incident, Geneseo began using NY-Alert, a system that notifies students, faculty and staff of any emergency situation by email, phone call, text message and fax. Due to the monumental costs of installing the loudspeaker system, Geneseo waylaid the endeavor for several years.

Sancilio said that the biggest benefit of the new speaker system is that it provides for speedy and accurate means of communication to everyone on campus. This new system, in addition to the NY-Alert phone calls, text messages, emails, LED screen notifications, Facebook and Twitter alerts will be difficult for students to miss in the case of an emergency situation.

“We can get messages out to everybody; no matter what they’re doing, they won’t be able to ignore it – it’s an emergency,” Sancilio said.

Assistant Chief of Police at University Police and Chair of the Disaster Planning Task Force Scott Kenney said that the loudspeaker system will help streamline mass communication. Kenney acknowledged that, while Geneseo is ahead of other campus as far as encouraging NY-Alert registration, people cannot be forced to register, and NY-Alert is sometimes slower than necessary.

“In the past … we sent our police cars around with the PA systems and we gave messages that way,” Kenney said. “But we also understood that in an emergency, the most likely ones that are going to be dealing with the emergency will be the police … so we had to come up with a different way.”

In the wake of the campus-wide test, a survey is available for the campus community to complete via email about the test’s effectiveness. According to Kenney, the results of the survey are extremely influential in determining the effectiveness of the system.

“We’ve tweaked the survey to get more specific feedback on where they were when they got the message, how they got the message and how effective they felt the message was,” he said.

Sancilio said he encourages students, faculty and staff to respond to the survey as a way to provide feedback, which is “key to keep improving the system.”