Officials push students to join safety notification system

MU students are now asked to enter cell phone and texting information when signing on to MyZou.
Megan Decker / Graphic Designer

MU is making student safety a priority with its changes to the Emergency Mass Notification System.

This week, the UM system is encouraging students at its four campuses to register their cell phone, text message and pager information with their schools. MU students can register through their myZou accounts for use by the notification system.

In the next few days students opening their myZou account will be given the option to enter their information or to opt out.

"Student, faculty and staff safety at all four of the university's campuses is a top priority," UM system spokeswoman Jennifer Hollingshead said. "All UM students are encouraged to enter their data for the mass notification service."

In the event of an emergency, the system would activate a sequence of alerts. The first alert would be a call to students' cell phones, followed by a text message and then an e-mail. Students would have to confirm the alert by either responding to the text or by pushing a number on the dial pad for calls. For e-mails, alerts will contain a confirmation hyperlink.

The service also has the capability to send messages to alternate personal e-mail addresses, local phones and numeric and alphanumeric pagers.

"This represents the best opportunity for the campus to reach them in the event of a major emergency on campus and the best opportunity to keep them safe in light of the emergency," Hollingshead said.

Although the UM system first instituted the system last November, registering the information was an opt-in rather than an opt-out option. Missouri Students Association President Jim Kelley said he's been pushing for this change since his first day in office.

"The process we had was a burden and was difficult to navigate," Kelley said. "We wanted something that would make it easier for students throughout the UM system to register this information and we think this change will do that."

As of Tuesday, 29 percent of MU students had registered their cell phone numbers and 13 percent their text numbers. This is up from 12 percent and 2 percent, respectively, in December. Kelley said the registration of cell phone and texting information gives the system "the ability to give students accurate information about the emergency in a timely manner."

Although the sequence of alerts has never been tested at MU, Information Technology Director Terry Robb estimates the service would take roughly four hours to finish completely.

"Since we've never tested it, it's impossible to know for sure how long it would take," Robb said. "There have been discussions of testing the sequence in October but nothing is final yet."

The alert system is provided by the National Notification Network, or 3N, which the university has contracted with since last August. The contract ends in 2010.

The 3N system allows certain "group leaders" to phone into the system and activate an alert.

"There are 18 group leaders capable of sending a message to the entire campus," Hollingshead said.

Those groups include the MU Police Department, Campus Facilities, the MU News Bureau, Environmental Health and Safety and the Division of Information Technology.

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