Public safety uses tiered system for campus alerts

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While Public Safety is working to become more transparent in their practices, some students still don’t understand the way Public Safety sends out alert notifications.

Public Safety uses three main methods for sending out information to students: they send text messages for the most extreme situations, emails for crimes, and emails for biased incidents.

The most extreme situations will be alerted through text messages in the Emergency Notification System. “That means that there has to be an imminent threat to your immediate safety,” said Director of Public Safety, Angie Nally.

Nally emphasized that the use of these text message alerts are only for the most dangerous type of situations to the whole campus. Tuesday when a man wanted for an outstanding drug warrant ran from a traffic stop near campus, students received a text message notification.

For less serious and time-sensitive situations, Public Safety will send timely warnings to the community through email. These second tier situations include Clery crimes and situations which have the potential to occur again. Clery Crimes are the specific crimes which the University is required to submit in the Clery reports, including any type of homicide, rape, sexual assault, robbery, burglary, aggravated assault, arson, or motor vehicle theft.

Timely warnings can also be sent out for crimes which are not Clery Crimes, where there is still a threat to students or their property. In addition, Public Safety might also post on its website to get information out.

The least urgent of Public Safety’s alerts are information alerts which are sent to the University through email  “It’s supposed to be totally not urgent, but instances where students might need to know that it happened and not hear about it from social media,” Nally said.

Information alerts are typically composed of two emails: one with basic information from Public Safety and the next is commonly from the Bias Incident Response Team (BIRT). The BIRT email clarifies what will happen on campus following the incident.

Nally used the example of the email sent out earlier in the semester over the potential clown sighting on campus to explain how these information alerts work.

“No, there are no clowns on campus, it’s not an imminent threat to your safety so there is not going to be a text message, and it’s not a Clery crime, so it won’t be a timely warning,” Nally said, “But at the same time, I need to send information out to tell people.”

“People are legitimately scared, and this thing has happened, and I need to correct the information,” Nally said, referring to the clowns.

The information alerts are also frequently sent out after a bias incident occurs on campus. The decision to send out information after a bias incident happens was encouraged by different communities throughout the University.

“Not only do members of that community understand that it has happened and they can take some kind of action to avoid the same type of incident, but also the majority of students will know that these incidents are happening,” Nally said. “Because they feel that we aren’t sharing this information more broadly, and that our majority communities weren’t hearing about these issues.”

“It’s also an effort to be more transparent, so students don’t feel like we are trying to sweep things under the rug or that we don’t take things seriously, ” Nally said.

For all types of alerts, Nally works with several other people including Dorian Shager, dean of campus life, to make sure the alerts make sense. “I don’t make the decisions in a vacuum,” Nally said.

Specifically for information alerts, students involved in an incident will be asked if they wish for the information to be released, and can decide against it. However, if Public Safety feels that the information needs to be passed along, they will override the student’s decision.

“The vast majority of students I have talked to are appreciative of these so they feel like they have a better sense of what is happening on campus and more awareness of things to be focused on or precautionary steps they can take,” Shager said.

Some students have echoed Shager’s sentiments. “We don’t get them all the time so it’s not like we’re bombarded with them so they’re not annoying,” said junior Rachel May. “But I do like to know when stuff is going on so I think they’re nice.”

Other students are more skeptical of the system. “I definitely think there might be a more effective way to send out these notifications,” said junior Katie Browning. “Sometimes they are very long and lengthy and I don’t quite understand them and it kind of comes as ‘I had no idea this happened.’ I feel like the biased incident reports confuse me more than inform me.”