The Challenge of Getting
Students to Release Their Cell Phone Numbers"> "At the University of Vermont a student left a party on a Friday evening and it wasnt until Saturday that her parents discovered shed been abducted and murdered because she was scheduled to have dinner with them," Desai said. He said that if shed had Guardian available, police would have known when she was overdue, and been dispatched to her indicated location."They might have groups for campus activities, sports news, reminders, and each of those groups can be administered by multiple people that are only responsible for that group," said Crum of Omnilert. Scot Talcott said that he sees similar uses. "Others use it for admissions, deadlines, some use it for increasing attendance at some sporting events," Talcott said. "What we see with those programs is that theyre targeted so we see students sign up for different types of alerts." Payst said that the challenge is getting a student to give you their cell phone number and keep it current. He said that with the value-add services, theres an incentive for students to use it on a daily basis, and that if they like the services, theyll be more likely to provide their cell phone numbers, and keep them up to date. Still, even the best means of communication require a plan. Schools must decide how to use their text alert systems, under what circumstances they should be used, and who is authorized to issue alerts. In addition, schools have to decide how and when to make the decision to move ahead with such a system. "Its kind of a misconception that it would be a nightmare to implement," Andriole said, noting that while some planning is necessary, most of the work doesnt fall into the lap of the college. "The company comes to the school and sets it up. They could have it up and running in a couple of days," she said. However, that doesnt mean the process is always fast. "It takes a long time to get approval from various departments, and decide whos going to pay for it and what budget the money will come from. It can take months before theyve figured out everything," Crum said. In the case of Omnilert, very little is required besides a link on the colleges Web site, although sometimes its hard to convince the college of that. "IT people have this habit of making things more complicated than they need to be," Crum said. DArcy agreed. "Essentially it takes us about a day to get a university deployed," he said. "We collect data from their student directory. We can turn it on in about 24 hours." But once the system is in place, the next stage of planningthe actual decision to use an emergency notification systemmust be made. Andriole said that schools can process and implement a crisis plan, and she pointed out that this is not the same thing as planning a fire drill, although universities should also do that. "We think schools need to do this even though they think it wont happen. Processing a drill that youre not going to use is not a huge problem. You just need to make sure every thing is running smoothly," she said. Of course, the planning does take time in an academic environment. It was a three year process at Eckerd College. "I realized that its a much bigger process than you think, but completely worth it," Paquet said. MessageOnes DArcy stressed that its very important for a university to have business continuity and disaster recovery plans in place, and its very important to be able to deliver notification to everyone affiliated with the university and to account for everyones safety afterwards. Click here to read about why phone communication was so poor during Hurricane Katrina. DArcy said that his companys product can actually ask users if they need help. Similar systems can also request responses by e-mail or text messaging. "Universities have a very difficult communications challenge. They have hundreds of acres and buildings and thousands of students. Its pretty essential for them to have," he said. Such systems are not only essential, but they are required. Explaining that the Clery Act of 1990 mandates the reporting of crimes on campuses and the timely notification of students, Andriole said that colleges and universities have been slow to move. "This issue hasnt been in the forefront. Were urging colleges to rethink that. The students do pay to go there, they should expect that theyre being protected," Andriole said. She noted, however, that a recent increase in publicity about campus crime, even before the tragedy at Virginia Tech, has started to make schools take notice. "In general, colleges are vastly improved over the years," Andriole said. "Recently colleges have been holding training seminars. A lot of feedback is that colleges have a hard time understanding what to do." Andriole said that her organization has been running seminars to help schools with their planning and with compliance with the Clery Act. Still, even when they comply with the law, and even when theyve built the best possible communications system, college administrators seem to share one wish, as voiced by UNCs Payst. "We hope we never have to use it," he said. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.
Desai said that the Rave Wireless can also provide targeted messages for student organizations, warn of power outages and even track the student shuttles, as is done at Montclair State University in Montclair, N.J. Such extra features are also proving to be a big selling point for other systems.