UT shooting showed importance of response system

Universities across the nation have been working for years on efficient systems for informing and protecting their students in case of an emergency, and the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 only scaled up these efforts.

Last Tuesday, when a gunman opened fire on the University of Texas (UT) campus in Austin, concerns regarding students’ safety on college campuses were once again raised. The incident put the university’s emergency alert system to the test, and by all reports the system did quite well sending alerts to the 30,000 phone numbers on the text-messaging list and 70,000 e-mail addresses.

As soon as there were reports about a gunman on campus, alerts were sent out across the UT Austin campus. The messages initially told the students and staff to stay where they were. After sweeps of the campus buildings had been carried out, a later message informed people that the situation was under control.

The rapid response to the situation was impressive, as was the fact that the messages told the students what to do instead of just informing them of the presence of the gunman.

Carnegie Mellon’s AlertNow system has been used occasionally in cases of bomb threats or snowstorms. Although we are glad that we have an emergency alert system in place (and that it has not needed to be used this semester), the system does have some flaws that need to be taken care of.

Most importantly, the system has often shown a delayed response, with many students first hearing about the emergency from sources other than the alert system. In situations like the one at UT Austin, timing is crucial.

If students are not informed about a threat in time, they could unknowingly walk into the line of fire. If UT Austin’s alert system ran at the same speed as Carnegie Mellon’s, it would have taken almost three hours to notify all the university’s students.

The UT Austin shooting has shown the importance of having rapid, efficient, and informative alert systems. If such an emergency ever occurs on Carnegie Mellon’s campus, hopefully our alert system will show improvement and do an equally good job of notifying students.