Updated April 4, 2008
Posted March 24, 2008
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Text Message Alert Didn't Reach Hundreds Due to Backlog
On the morning of March 5, the University's campuswide alert system, developed last year in the wake of the shootings at Virginia Tech, was used for the first time to notify people on campus that a young woman had been found shot to death at about 5 a.m. in a nearby neighborhood.
Long before they knew the victim was Student Body President Eve Carson, nearly 5,200 students, faculty and staff received a text message on their cellular phones beginning about 10:20 a.m. Only those who had signed up to receive the text message alerts were included. Alert messages also were sent to all campus e-mail addresses and all telephones via voice mail, representing about 40,000 people.
But hundreds of people who had signed up since January to receive the text message alerts didn't get that form of alert. The reason: an unprocessed backlog of subscribers.
Patty Courtright '75, director of internal communications at UNC, said in mid-March that the backlog was being assessed. "I know we are working on ways to speed up that process," she said. "It's not an automatic process because names have to be pulled from the University's directory system."
Courtright said the exact number of those affected was not known but that it was in the hundreds.
About three hours after the shooting, the police department issued its first news release. Then, about 10:20 a.m., a follow-up release was issued with more details about the victim and a more specific appeal to the community for help with information. For those who received any form of the alert, the lapse in time between the 5 a.m. shooting and the alert was attributed to the police department's determination that no continuing threat existed.
The text message provided a Web site address — alertcarolina.unc.edu — that students, faculty and staff could visit for more information. One also can use that site to register for the notification service.
Text messaging represents one of four ways the University will now communicate using the Alert Carolina safety awareness system. The system also incorporates wired phones on campus, campus e-mail and four new sirens. In many situations, messages would be conveyed using the first three components of the system; the sirens would be added in the event of a life-threatening emergency.
Using wired phones on the campus, the campus sends what's called a "system broadcast" to all phones on the campus. No registration is needed for that service. But that system, which also is used for nonemergencies, has a glitch. It is sent as a voice mail message, and each individual phone will not display a light indicating a message is waiting unless it already has another message waiting.
"You do receive them," Courtright said. "The systemwide message goes out to everyone, but you don't get a little light or indication on your phone that it is there. That has more to do with the technology of that system."
The four sirens are located at various points on the campus and would be sounded only during a life-threatening emergency or a test. Scenarios for siren activation include an armed and dangerous person on or near campus, a major chemical spill or hazard or a tornado sighting.
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