“This a WSU Alert emergency message…” When classes were canceled last week (Jan. 31 and Feb. 1), most faculty staff and students received an e-mail, text message or phone call — or two, or three — starting off with these words and notifying them that classes had been canceled.
In the end, approximately 75 percent of the people who were registered with the WSU Alert system received a message. Many got it more than once, because they did not “confirm” that they had received it. Failure to confirm reception of an emergency notification triggers the system to either call back at a later time, or to try to make contact via another designated method.
Although class cancelations were unexpected — the first such instance in more than 20 years – they resulted in the first large scale use of the university’s new emergency messaging system.
“We weren’t planning to launch a total system test for several weeks,” said Chris Tapfer, WSU’s emergency management coordinator. “We were still making some minor system modifications, but overall this first use of the messaging system worked well,” he said.
Tapfer and Dave Ostrom, director of communication and network services with Information Technology Services, now are busy reviewing the performance of the system, and analyzing the statistics from last week to see which emergency messages did not go through and why. Reasons could include, unreported changes in e-mail addresses, phone numbers and text message addresses, or incorrectly entered information, or lack of message confirmation.
As the results of that analysis come out, WSU officials will adjust the system, or work with “3N,” the message system vendor, to overcome any hurdles. Two items are already on their agenda:
1. Collecting a bit more information from participants to help the system work more efficiently.
2. Inform people about how to confirm reception of a message.
Briefly put, when you receive a WSU Alert phone call, stay on the line a few seconds after the message ends and you will be asked to push a button to designate confirmation. Once you have done that, the messaging system ceases to try to contact you. Similar responses are offered via e-mail and text messaging.