Colleges Getting Proactive on
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, PaquetWeb manager at the 1,800-student, private liberal arts college located on 200 acres of western Florida waterfrontholds a unique power.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 teacherswhich sent the community of 27,000 people into a frenzybring 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 unpredictableits not like a chlorine spill, or something like that. When we first started thinking about all this, we focused on collocationhow 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 bigbut 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.
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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.