The Daily Gamecock

Carolina Alert reserves texts for 'immediate risk'

Clemson, College of Charleston alert students of campus closings

If USC closes due to a weather emergency, USC students, faculty and staff do not receive text messages through the Carolina Alert Notification System.

 However, College of Charleston and Clemson students and employees do receive text messages from their alert systems.

USC only uses the Carolina Alert text messages during situations that would also require the use of sirens, AlertFM or a TV message crawler system — emergencies that require action.

Emergencies that require action include "situations that pose an immediate risk to safety," according to Carolina Alert's website. Examples of these emergencies include an "active shooter, chemical release and evacuation."

Corporal Vinny Bocchino from USC's Emergency Management department said a lot of input goes into the Carolina Alert System. Bocchino said USC's emergency management team had a subcommittee that focused solely on communication issues to develop a plan, which determined that text message alerts are reserved for when lives are in immediate danger.

"The way we worked it down was that text messages would be reserved for only emergencies," Bocchino said. "This is an emergency notification system — that's what we want to stress."

Mike Robertson, College of Charleston's senior communications director, said his school's alert system, Cougar Alert, is used to notify students of emergencies but is also used to notify campus closings.

Similar to USC, students and employees at College of Charleston can enter up to three emergency phone numbers for phone calls and text messages, and they can also receive emails and see updates on Facebook and Twitter.

However, unlike Carolina Alert, Cougar Alert sends text messages to students, faculty and staff when the campus closes due to severe weather like snowstorms or hurricanes.

"We want to make sure people are informed," Robertson said. "We don't want to overdo it — obviously. We don't want to scare people either."

In addition to life-threatening emergencies, Clemson University, like College of
Charleston, also notifies its students of situations where campus closes.

"This system is also utilized, not only by public safety and the police department, but it is also used by media relations," said Eric Hendricks, operations captain for the Clemson University's police department.

He added that if classes are closed, the university will send text messages through CU Safe.

Hendricks said since Fall 2011, Clemson has sent out five text message alerts.

The first was to let the campus community know about seismic activity, two were tests from a nearby nuclear station and another was to alert the campus of an ongoing manhunt near the International Center of Automotive Research, which is near Clemson's Greenville campus.

CU Safe Alert has multiple outlets of communication in addition to text messages, including email, an RSS feed and campus sirens.
Hendricks said CU Safe Alert does not send out messages on lightning anymore because too many were being sent.

In past weather situations at USC, most recently the September flooding, students weren't notified because the situation did not fall into the "requires action" category.

"Flooding is an instance where you see the risk ahead of you," Bocchino said.
"It's not like all of a sudden a flood just happens. It's a very observable incident. It's kind of like a fire. You see the fire; if you choose to run into the building, that would be a mistake. Same thing with the flood — you see the flood ahead of you. If you choose to drive through it, that's more of poor judgment."

Hendricks commented on the use of the social media and text message systems because it's the preferred choice of communication by students.

"The students communicate by iPhone," Hendricks said. "If you want to get anything out, it has to be some kind of social networking or by CU Safe Text."

While students may be fluent with technology, Bocchino noted that the population Carolina Alert aims to reach includes more than just students at the university.

"We're not just dealing with students; we're dealing with faculty and staff members, too," Bocchino said. "Not everybody has unlimited text messages or have that feature, so we have to be a little judicious — not saying that will restrict us from sending them — but at the same time, this population of students are very technology savvy and for them, an extra text message a day is nothing. But we have a very larger, greater population that we're dealing with."

Bocchino urged those who want to receive text messages to follow the Twitter, Facebook and RSS feed and have the information sent to their phone.

"Basically, what we try to do is get a number of different items that can be redundant, meaning that if one fails, we have other options to choose from," Bocchino said. "Every system has strengths and weaknesses, and so basically, when we are presented with some sort of incident, we get to choose which OK ones we want to use would be most effective."

Between Feb. 7 and 10 Carolina Alert will be testing its system. Bocchino said Emergency Management will be receiving a random phone call sometime during those four days telling them to test the process in an emergency simulation.