Fast Delivery Is the
Key"> "With a text messaging system, its the most reliable way to communicate with students these days. Its the fastest way," Paquet said. He added that his most recent attempt to get students to provide their cell phone numbers happened to come on the same day as the Virginia Tech shootings. "We sent out a message telling students that we couldnt warn them if we didnt have their numbers. We had a lot of students give us their numbers," Paquet said.He said that his companys business with colleges and universities is growing rapidly. "Today we have many colleges and universities who use it related to crisis communications. We have a lot of universities in the hurricane belt," DArcy said. "Its delivered as a managed service so theres no dependence on the organizations infrastructure," DArcy said, pointing out that this means that a school could send out an alert to its students even if it had lost power or suffered some other unexpected event. Payst, who uses a system from Rave Wireless thats similar to MessageOne, says that the ability to invoke the emergency alerts from a Web interface is important. "I could do this from my Treo," he said. As it turns out, an interface thats quick and easy to use is a major factor in choosing an emergency notification systems for many colleges. Each of the vendors contacted for this article pointed out that only a single Web form need be filled out once the phone number data base was loaded, and that the entire process could take less than a minute. "The administrator would log into our secure server, compose the message and the message would be sent immediately to everyone on their list," said Scot Talcott, chief operating officer of Catchwind, in Des Moines, Iowa. The Catchwind product only provides for sending SMS messages for cell phones. "The administrator logs in and we identify the database, and push it out to all major carriers. We ensure that those messages are delivered," Talcott said. Talcott said that his system can deliver those messages very quickly, around 10 to 15 thousand every couple of minutes. "A 20,000 student campus would be five or six minutes. Messages would be received within five minutes," he said. Other systems that can send messages using a more diverse set of messaging options can take longer. "Youre at the mercy of the cell phone carriers," UNCs Payst said. Who is reading your cell phones text messages? Click here to read more. When asked about the number of messages he could expect to be delivered, Payst said, "About 10 messages a second; about 30 minutes to get it deliver to 40,000 recipients including faculty and staff." Its a problem of the cell phone providers getting the messages and pumping them out, but Payst noted that this is still far better than depending on e-mail. "If I send out 40,000 e-mail messages were looking at several hours before it gets out to everyone. Then they have to check their e-mail, and actually read it," he said. The emergency notification providers said that theyve found that students are more accepting of the technologyand more likely to provide their cell phone numbersif they can get some additional benefit from the service. For that reason, the companies also offer a number of "opt-in" services that provide extra value to students. "For every tragedy we hear about like Monday, there are thousands of personal tragedies," said Rodger Desai, CEO of Rave Wireless, the oldest of the emergency text messaging companies. Desai said that those personal tragedies inspired his company to develop a new personal alerting system for students. "We have Rave Guardian. It transmits their GPS location to police," he said. Desai said that a student can set a timer on their Guardian so that if the time runs out before the student shuts it off, police will realize that something has happened to the student and head for their location as indicated by the GPS. Next Page: The challenge of getting students to release their cell phone numbers.
Eckerd College, a small private liberal arts college, uses the managed messaging service from MessageOne in Austin, Texas. "We have a managed service that uses all available infrastructure," said Paul DArcy, vice president of marketing for MessageOne. "We can send phone calls, e-mails, SMS, pages, faxes. Our system knows the difference between voice mail and a real person and can ask questions."