UPD performs required SUNY communications test; surveys effectiveness

Geneseo performed a planned emergency communications test on Oct. 29. According to Assistant Chief of University Police Department Scott Kenney, the test is designed to prepare individuals on campus for real emergencies. “We have a communications network that we need to test at least twice a year to make sure that we’re doing things in a nature that will get the word out to our students, staff, faculty and visitors in the case of an emergency,” he said.

The test is performed through emails sent by Geneseo using what they call the “911 mailing list.” Unlike other mailing lists, this one is sent to all students, faculty and staff. Anyone with a geneseo.edu email address will receive the message; no one can opt out of it.

“We only use that account when we feel there is something of very serious nature,” Kenney said.

In addition to the 911 mailing list, NY-Alert, an optional program that students, staff and faculty can register for, also performed the emergency test in synchronization with the State University of New York alert. According to NY-Alert’s distribution results, 5,597 users on this campus are signed up for their alerts and were contacted. According to Kenney, there is about 80 percent involvement in the program on the Geneseo campus.

Shortly after the test, a survey was sent to all students and staff on campus through email. Of the 458 people who participated in the survey, eight claimed that they never saw any emergency test notifications.

“That’s a pretty good response,” Kenney said. “At least people are hearing or seeing something.”

The survey also recorded comments by participants. According to Kenney, a common response received from professors or students claimed that they did not receive the notification quickly because the professor prohibits use of cell phones in class.

“We talk about that with professors,” Kenney said. “It would be our preference that one NY-Alert phone is on in class for these reasons.”

Other comments addressed the lack of “Big Voice,” a speaker system that can be heard outdoors throughout campus, as a notification system. Kenney explained that the Big Voice system is currently down due to interference in the school’s wireless network. He did, however, mention the campus reverted back to the police car loudspeaker system.

“We went to every quad on campus and gave a verbal warning [announcing the emergency test] twice in each quad,” he said. “That’s how we tried to tell people that were outside what was going on.”

In addition to these warnings, the Geneseo website homepage featured an emergency screen and the scrolling displays in Milne Library, Erwin Hall and the MacVittie College Union displayed an emergency message.

Kenney described the “Disaster Planning Task Force,” a group of administrators that plans for emergencies of which he is the chair. The group meets every month to do emergency planning. According to Kenney, when the second emergency test occurs, it will be unannounced and not even the Disaster Planning Task Force will know when it will occur.

“They have to respond to our Emergency Operations Center and go into emergency planning mode,” Kenney said. “We have built our skills set so when a real [emergency] hits, we don’t spend all those valuable first minutes trying to remember what to do in an emergency.”