By Carys Mills
After several high profile security threats at Ryerson, like last week’s anthrax scare, the school is looking for a faster way to get security alerts to students. Text messages might be the answer.
Julia Lewis, director of health and safety, said Ryerson, like most campuses, is looking into an emergency text messaging system.
The real challenge, according to her, is to determine “how best to use such a tool.”
Linda Grayson, vice president of administration and finance, said members of the emergency management team are in talks about it, but there’s no firm date on when such a system would be rolled out.
“Emergency alerts via email aren’t adequate for commuters,” said Wazim Subrati, a second-year criminal justice student, who commutes over an hour to attend classes at Ryerson.
Subrati checks his Ryerson email every two days.
He overheard in class on Oct. 27 that an envelope containing a death threat and a powdery white substance was discovered in the Library Building. He then checked his email and discovered the building was closed and his next class was cancelled.
He said because many commuters don’t bring laptops to class they may be left in the dark when an emergency situation occurs.
“I know quite a few people [that go to Ryerson] who don’t have laptops… but I don’t know anyone without a cell phone,” he said.
Subrati said if Ryerson offered an emergency text messaging system he’d sign up.
However Lewis said rapid emergency information has its downfalls.
“What if we sent the campus population into the direction where the shooter went next?” she asked. The release of secure information in an emergency situation is also a concern.
The University of Calgary already has a security text alert system. Mass text messages are sent to students and staff if there’s a serious emergency on campus. Signing up for the service is voluntary.
Brian Kitching, U of C’s Emergency response plan coordinator, said the program has been successful so far.
“We’re happy with those who’ve volunteered but would like more. We’ve considered incentives to promote enrolment in the program.”
The system was considered after the Virginia Tech shooting and began in September 2007. Out of 38,000 full-time students and staff, 9,500 have signed up so far.
Simon Fraser University, the University of Windsor and the University of Ottawa also have text message security alerts.
According to Simon Fraser’s SFU Alert website, “An email broadcast can take well over two hours to spread the word. SFU Alerts will reach the community in minutes.”
SFU alerts include text messages, messages on AIM, MSN and Yahoo, phone call alerts and emails.
The priority for Ryerson, Lewis said, is communicating to community members.
She admits email is “only as good as those who read it.”
— with files from Hilary Hagerman