With September being National Preparedness Month, the IU Notify system has recently expanded to include computer updates via a new Alertus emergency alert software.
Alertus, which has the ability to post full-screen pop-up messages on any computer with software downloaded from IU Ware, has been implemented in the IU Notify system for only about a month.
IU Notify is the system that IU uses to alert anyone on the current email and phone lists during an emergency situation.
Emergency Management and Continuity Director Debbi Fletcher said the Alertus computer notification is “just one more tool in the toolbox,” of IU Notify’s current alert strategy, which includes various combinations of phone calls, texts, emails and social media alerts sent out among IU students and staff for different types of emergencies.
Fletcher said the goal of this extra medium of communication was to reach students and staff that may have cell phones and other mobile devices put away during classes.
“That’s one of the reasons we really pushed to get a system like that,” Fletcher said. “We knew there were places we just weren’t touching people. We could not get messages to them because they could not receive them.”
Alertus was first tested last week when a gas leak on North Jordan Avenue near the Musical Arts Center prompted the IU Police Department to evacuate the area. While the Alertus updates were sent out to computers as planned, templates in the emergency notification system were left blank sending out the message: “IU Bloomington Update: A dangerous situation is occurring near (INSERT LOCATION). Stay away from the area. Follow official instruction.”
Fletcher attributed this to human error while operating a new system.
“In an emergency, you just don’t have time to think about it,” Fletcher said. “You need to be able to send it, which is why sometimes you’ll get things that will come up and the template will be messed up or somebody forgot to put the word in because somebody’s trying to do this under pressure.”
Much of the IU Notify system, including some texts and emails, use a template format for emergency notifications so that dispatchers or emergency personnel can send alerts quickly when an action is required, such as evacuating a building or taking shelter.
In the event of a crime alert — a no-action required update — templates are not used. These alerts typically instruct individuals to have a heightened sense of awareness after an incident that has already occurred, such as an armed robbery or sexual assault where any potential threat is under control.
Fletcher said that these crime alerts typically only come through emails that are crafted specifically about an incident not using templates.
A team of emergency personnel conducts a review typically within 24 hours of each emergency incident managed. This process has become more formal within the last year. It now requires forms to be filed and reviews the clarity and results of IU Notify mediums used.
Fletcher said public input on IU Notify is collected once a year via surveys attached to annual tests of the system every March during IU Emergency Management and Continuity’s Operation Stormy Weather.
Fletcher attributed varying arrival times of emails, texts and phone calls, along with some never being received, to cell phone providers and the sheer amount of people – some 63,000 in Bloomington — that must be alerted.
She said emails could take five minutes to send, whereas the phone system loops repeatedly through all phone numbers provided to IU Notify if the call cannot be connected on the first try.
“Usually we’ll end up canceling it and stopping whatever calls have not gone out if that’s the case, but that’s really a hardware issue,” Fletcher said. “Phone systems just cannot handle that kind of push of calls.”
Fletcher added that word of mouth helps make up for some of these missed calls.
Other responses Fletcher and her team commonly receive are that too many alert phone calls are sent out or that they are being sent at inconvenient times. Since switching to a new emergency notification system two years ago, called Rave, IU students and staff have the ability to change and add phone numbers for alerts and select notification settings for various IU campuses.
The old system automatically sent alerts to information provided during enrollment or at the time a staff member began working at the University. The new system will continue to alert these places if settings have not been changed to ensure every person has a way of being contacted in the event of an emergency. These settings can be changed in the IU Notify app found at one.iu.edu.cl.
PULL OUT: Other safety updates can be followed by means of the IU Emergency Management and Continuity Facebook page, campus Twitter accounts including @IUBloomington, and viaemergency.iu.edu.