Kent State prioritizes Flash ALERTS in wake of tornado warning

David Williams

On April 15, the National Weather Service issued a tornado warning for Portage County. Kent State’s Emergency Alert System was quickly activated, and the tornado sirens blared. University Communications and Marketing (UCM) then sent out the advisory email, but the email said May 15 rather than April.

Kent State’s Alert System works like this: A dispatcher with KSUPD receives notification from the National Weather Service that there is a tornado warning in their jurisdiction. They first activate the tornado sirens along with the mass notification system, which sends an audible message through the speakers outside and inside every building and every Cisco phone speaker in every building.

“The main priority is that those (who) are on campus are notified first so that they can take shelter,” said Community Resource Officer Tricia Knoles.

The dispatcher then sends out the Flash ALERT to notify anybody that may be coming toward the area that there is a tornado warning. UCM then sends out the email to allow those not on campus to be aware that the warning had occurred.

“The main priority is the sirens, mass notification system and Flash ALERT to make those in and around campus notified to take shelter,” Knoles said.

More than 50,000 students, staff, faculty, alumni and in some cases, their relatives, are signed up for Flash ALERTS.

“We encourage everyone who is currently connected to the university to sign up,” said Eric Mansfield, the executive director of university media relations. “The benefit is that it’s an immediate message to their phone, which most people keep with them at all times. Still, text messaging is only one platform for emergency messages. We also replicate those messages on the university home page, via email, Facebook and Twitter.”

On campus, students lucky enough to be in buildings with basements found themselves packed with dozens of other students who didn’t take the alert seriously. Those without basements were lined on the floors of first-floor hallways.

“I was crammed in the basement of Wright Hall with the entire building, about 50-60 people,” said freshman biology major Gavin Johnson. “There were only two RAs managing it all. We got an email talking about how badly everyone did.”

Dennis Baden, the director of Environmental Health and Safety, said, in recent years, Kent State has developed emergency plans specific to every building, designating tornado safety areas.

While they did not specifically look at which buildings were safer than others, all tornado safety areas are away from exterior windows.

David Williams is the safety reporter. Contact him at [email protected].