New system uses texts in case of emergencies


Technology is making another appearance on the NMU campus with the introduction of a new feature for students and faculty: emergency text-message alerts.

In addition to the pop-up warnings on newer model laptops and e-mail and phone broadcast notifications, the text-messaging alerts are another way to reach students who may not be on campus or near their computers at the time of an on-campus emergency.

“There is talk of making this type of service a requirement for all universities,” said Jeff Mincheff, assistant director of police services at Public Safety. “It’s estimated 95 percent or more of the campus population has cell phones with text messaging capability, so it’s an easy way to contact a majority of the people you’re trying to reach in an urgent situation.”

Cindy Paavola, one of the coordinators of NMU’s crisis communication plan, cited networking and speed as two major benefits of the text messaging alert system.

“There is no one way that will ever reach 100 percent of your population. This is especially true in a crisis situation,” Paavola said. “The goal is to get safety information out to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.”

According to Public Safety, the text-message alert system is fueled by the Jeanne Clery Act, a 1990 law that requires colleges and universities to disclose certain timely and annual information about campus crime and security policies.

The service is made possible through a contract with OTAir, a company with nationwide education and corporate clients, according to Public Safety. While OTAir specializes in all forms of text messaging notifications, Mincheff said that NMU’s service will only be used for emergencies.

“Our plan does not include using it to announce that Northern beat Michigan State in hockey,” said Mincheff. “We could do that. It has that capability, but our focus is on emergency situations so people who have to pay for individual text messages don’t receive more than they want or need.”

Aside from fees charged by cell phone providers for text messaging, the service is free. To receive the alerts, students must register for the service at the NMU Alerts Web site. After logging in with their NMU user ID and password, students will be directed to a sign-up screen where they will enter their phone number and service provider. Students and faculty can also register family phone numbers for relatives who want to be notified of an emergency on campus.

Paavola said that while the day-to-day impact of the text message alert system is minimal – it takes only a few minutes to sign up – the response in an emergency situation would be significant.

“The reality is that the impact during a crisis will be directly tied to how many students, faculty and staff have signed up to keep their information current,” she said. “It’s a pretty comprehensive strategy for message distribution. However, our sincerest hope is that we never have to use the NMU alerts for anything other than testing.”

For more information concerning the NMU Alerts-including the text-message alert system-visit myweb or call Public Safety at 227-2151.