Colleges Getting Proactive on

By Chris Preimesberger  |  Posted 2007-08-22 Print this article Print

Disaster Communication"> When any kind of weather system enters the Gulf of Mexico, Casey Paquet and the emergency management team at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla., make it their business to watch very closely. In the event of a hurricane or other emergency, Paquet—Web manager at the 1,800-student, private liberal arts college located on 200 acres of western Florida waterfront—holds a unique power.
With a single text or voice message, he can warn the entire student body, staff and faculty of his institution about impending danger by e-mail, text message or phone message. And he can have the message broadcast within minutes.
Emergency communications has long been a key issue facing college and university leaders. Operating numerous buildings populated by hundreds of faculty, staff and students makes running a college not unlike overseeing a small town. "Being right in the middle, vertically, of the state of Florida and on the Gulf side, we have to be concerned all the time [about hurricanes]," Paquet told eWEEK. "Even though we havent been hit here in St. Pete since 1921, every year its a little sketchy." With Hurricane Dean, a rare Category 5 storm (winds of up to 160 mph) and the first big one of the season, currently cutting a wide swath through the southern Gulf region, the situation certainly is as "sketchy" as ever. In 2004, Eckerd was closed for full evacuation three times due to hurricane activity in the Gulf, Paquet said. It would have been nice, Paquet said, if the college had had the system then that it now uses: MessageOnes AlertFind. Using the AlertFind service, all it takes is one authorized administrator to make all users or a select group of users immediately aware of public safety warnings, provide up-to-date inclement weather advisories, or disseminate information on issues in foreign countries potentially affecting students or faculty abroad. Click here to read more about MessageOnes e-mail continuity product. Depending upon the options the user selects, a text or voice mail message can be broadcast as text, e-mail, or voice mail and delivered in seconds. Options also include all three forms of reception; a stepping-stone option is also available, one that goes from text to e-mail to voice to make sure all the bases are covered. AlertFind, which currently has more than 1 million users, has kept companies, communities and universities operating and enabled them to ensure the safety of their employees during and after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the July 2005 bombings of Londons public transit system, the 2004 Southeast Asia tsunami, and the 2003 Northeast power outage. The Virginia Tech campus murders on April 16 of 32 students and teachers—which sent the community of 27,000 people into a frenzy—bring up another reason for a campus or large organization to consider the kind of instant communication that a tool like AlertFind affords. AlertFind users include the American Red Cross, Motorola, Allianz, and Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Eckerd became a customer in 2006, and Adelphi College and Middlebury College are coming on board this year. "Hurricanes are the primary focus of our emergency management team," Eckerds Paquet said. "Partially because you can plan for them, even though theyre sort of unpredictable—its not like a chlorine spill, or something like that. When we first started thinking about all this, we focused on collocation—how can we keep running if the college has to close, how can we better notify people [if something happens]." When Eckerd looked at its communication options a couple of years ago, Paquet said, text messaging was big—but not like it is now. "Now its crazy. It made a lot of sense for us to go in that direction," Paquet said. "Initially what we had looked for was literally just a text messaging service. We ended up getting MessageOne, and one of the things thats so appealing was that it is so much more robust than that. "You can do all kinds of voice messaging in and out of the system, people can respond, ... youve got a whole bunch of options. If I have to leave the state, for example, and all Ive got is my cell phone, I can actually call and initiate a message from my phone to everyone on campus, which is fantastic," Paquet said. Page 2: Colleges Getting Proactive on Disaster Communication

Chris Preimesberger Chris Preimesberger was named Editor-in-Chief of Features & Analysis at eWEEK in November 2011. Previously he served eWEEK as Senior Writer, covering a range of IT sectors that include data center systems, cloud computing, storage, virtualization, green IT, e-discovery and IT governance. His blog, Storage Station, is considered a go-to information source. Chris won a national Folio Award for magazine writing in November 2011 for a cover story on and CEO-founder Marc Benioff, and he has served as a judge for the SIIA Codie Awards since 2005. In previous IT journalism, Chris was a founding editor of both IT Manager's Journal and and was managing editor of Software Development magazine. His diverse resume also includes: sportswriter for the Los Angeles Daily News, covering NCAA and NBA basketball, television critic for the Palo Alto Times Tribune, and Sports Information Director at Stanford University. He has served as a correspondent for The Associated Press, covering Stanford and NCAA tournament basketball, since 1983. He has covered a number of major events, including the 1984 Democratic National Convention, a Presidential press conference at the White House in 1993, the Emmy Awards (three times), two Rose Bowls, the Fiesta Bowl, several NCAA men's and women's basketball tournaments, a Formula One Grand Prix auto race, a heavyweight boxing championship bout (Ali vs. Spinks, 1978), and the 1985 Super Bowl. A 1975 graduate of Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., Chris has won more than a dozen regional and national awards for his work. He and his wife, Rebecca, have four children and reside in Redwood City, Calif.Follow on Twitter: editingwhiz

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