Photo: Messages can be delivered in a variety of ways. (iStockphotos).
 
WSU has signed a three-year $109,236 contract with the National Notification Network (3N) for a comprehensive electronic emergency message system. It will improve safety by helping the university alert people to potential threats like terrorists, bombs and shooters — like the gunman at Virginia Tech  last spring.

The system, which will be installed over the next month, will allow WSU to send messages to its students, faculty and staff statewide.

The system can send emergency messages simultaneously via e-mail, telephone, cell phone, voice mail, instant messaging (IM) and text messaging. The messages will be sent to people who have registered their emergency contact information with the university and to WSU phones and e-mail addresses.

Registration allows each person to select a preferred method of being contacted, phone number or electronic address.
3N provides similar services to universities, schools, cities and corporations internationally — see ONLINE @ www.3nonline.com.

Emergency messages will be sent via off-campus locations managed by 3N. Its sites are located in various areas of the nation to ensure multiple backup systems, security and access.

Emergency contact information is being gathered via a form posted on the university’s Web portal ONLINE @ www.my.wsu.edu. The data can be divided into “hierarchy priority groups” that will allow administrators and emergency officials to broadcast messages statewide, or target them to specific campuses or groups.

WSU’s biggest emergency communication challenge is its Pullman campus with about 24,000 students, faculty and staff. Because it is located in a small, rural community, the phone line, cell phone and Internet bandwidth capacity is limited. By contrast, communication utilities around WSU’s urban campuses are much broader and deeper.

Dave Ostrom, director of WSU Pullman’s communication and network services, said the telephone system on the Pullman campus is only capable of handling 284 phone calls simultaneously. Consequently, if an emergency occurs, the campus phone lines are quickly jammed to capacity.

Because 3N can send messages via multiple media, it can help maximize the messaging process speed.

“The biggest and best thing people can do to help in the case of an emergency,” he said, “is to not call in or out, which will leave more communication lines open” — phone, cell phone, e-mail, text messaging, etc.

When an emergency message is sent, the 3N system asks each recipient to acknowledge the message. If confirmation is not received, 3N continues to try to make contact. So, Ostrom added, “it will be important that people respond to the emergency message, so the communication capacity isn’t needlessly tied up.”

WSU Pullman also recently installed a $114,000 siren/public announcement system that can be heard instantly across the broad campus, thereby bypassing phone and Internet limitations. For more information on the siren system, go to the news archive ONLINE @ www.wsutoday.wsu.edu.