MU alert system tested for errors
Student registration has increased this semester.
Nov. 10, 2008
After an increase in the number of students registered for MU's emergency notifcation system, the division of IT sent text messages and e-mails Monday.
Alert texts, followed by e-mails, were sent to all students, faculty and staff registered with the system's vendor, the National Notification Network, or 3N. In the event of an actual emergency, those registered may also receive a phone call from the system.
"Whether or not we use phone calls depends on the situation," university projects specialist Chad Pfister said. "But, texting and e-mailing are the quickest methods of alerting students."
As of Nov. 7, 68 percent of students had registered their cell phone number with 3N and 44 percent had registered their texting information. This is an increase from 59 percent and 38 percent respectively since Sept. 3.
The emergency system saw a spike in registration during the week of Aug. 26-Sept. 3. It was during this time MU made registration of texting, cell phone and e-mail information an opt-out rather than an opt-in on students' myZou accounts.
"Of course, the university wants to ensure that all students are protected under the emergency alert system," UM system spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said. "But, 68 percent is a significant increase in registration since the beginning of the semester."
Students confirmed they had received the alert Monday by responding to texts with "YES" or by clicking on the alert e-mail's confirmation hyperlink.
The test revealed a few problems with the emergency alert system, which had previously gone overlooked.
"There was a lag in some alert e-mails, but it wasn't anything too severe," Pfister said. "Overall, I think the test went extremely well."
When some students did receive an alert e-mail, they were unable to access the confirmation hyperlink.
In some cases, alerts were sent to people registered with the system but not residing in the Columbia area.
"Some of the university's hospital employees are stationed around the state and some of them received messages despite being nowhere near the university," IT Director Terry Robb said. "We'll need to limit the alerts to Columbia."
Although definitive statistics concerning how long the system took to alert all registered students are not yet determined, the system was set to send out all texting and e-mail alerts within two hours.
"We'll have to do some analysis later to find out how long the system took exactly," Robb said. "We'll look for how long it took for the first person to respond to an alert."
Robb said he believed the system's standard was about 40,000 texts and 60,000 e-mails sent within one hour.
"We think alert e-mails might have taken a little longer than expected," Robb said. "In one case, I heard someone got an e-mail just before 5 p.m., but we won't know how long they took exactly until next week."
Although the date for the system's next test has not been set, Pfister said they will become a regularity on campus.
"We're not entirely sure yet how often we want to test the system," Pfister said. "But we know one will take place at least once per semester."