UNC Tweaks Warning System After Student Complaints

Wailing sirens drowned out the hum of normal campus activities shortly before noon on Sept. 6 as Alert Carolina responded to tornado warnings issued for Orange County.

Winston Crisp ’92 (JD), vice chancellor for student affairs, said the tornado threat posed a perfect test run for the effectiveness of recent revisions to the campus security warning system.

Beginning last April, a group of senior administrators, public safety officers and student representatives met to discuss ways to improve the system and address student complaints about insufficient notification regarding an armed robbery in Morrison Residence Hall in April. At the time, Alert Carolina had two tiers of notices: one for emergencies announced by sirens, text messages and emails, and another for “no threat” situations, which were posted on the Alert Carolina website.

The revised system, implemented Sept. 1, was modeled on protocols developed by Virginia Tech after slayings there, and students’ suggestions, said Jeff McCracken ’05, director of public safety. The revisions include a new Timely Warning Notification tier that uses text messages and email notifications to inform the campus of potentially dangerous situations without using a siren, such as robberies or assaults.

McCracken said he hopes the additional information tier will address student concerns about campus safety.

“Without official information about a campus crime or emergency incident, rumors circulate and fear grows, even if there is no continuing threat to the campus,” he said.

McCracken said he will continue analyzing and revising the system as necessary, considering feedback from test drills and warnings such as September’s tornado sirens, as well as after actual emergencies, to improve his department’s response.

Crisp said that following the tornado warnings, he received complaints about the timing of emails and confusion among faculty and students about whether classes would be held during alarm periods.

The tornado alarms have “helped us identify a number of issues with the actual implementation of the system that will need to be assessed and addressed,” Crisp said.

Because the sirens are not audible inside many campus buildings, Crisp urged students to register their cell phones with Alert Carolina to receive emergency text messages.

Mike Bertucci, who represented graduate students at the group considering revisions to Alert Carolina, said he was pleased with the way students’ suggestions were implemented and their safety concerns addressed.

“We students of the committee kept stressing the need for information to be dispatched from DPS to the student community as soon as accurate details and instructions could be collected,” Bertucci said. “I feel this system is much better suited to achieve just that.”


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