Flash Alerts provides critical information to increasing numbers at Kent State

Amanda Crumm

All in a month, students have faced robberies, arsons, a flasher and a hurricane — all on campus.

Partly due to these recent incidents, enrollment has increased for Flash Alerts, Kent State’s official emergency text notification system. A subscriber-only service, Flash Alerts notifies students, faculty and staff about critical information on campus.

Currently, nearly 45,000 students, faculty, staff and parents in the Kent State community have signed up to be notified in times of crisis, said Eric Mansfield, executive director of University Media Relations. That’s up approximately 14 percent from enrollment calculated last December and 43 percent from two years ago.

Although Mansfield said a weather-related closing is the most common reason to issue a Flash Alert, other incidents often prompt notification of the entire campus. In compliance with federal law, all college and universities receiving federal student financial aid report information about crime on and around campus.

Flash Alert Subscribers

December 2012: 45,000**

December 2011: 39,422

December 2010: 31,358

Source: University Communications and Marketing web team

**Estimated enrollment as of Nov. 15

Kent State goes a step further and notifies the campus community immediately anytime there is a crime or a suspected crime on campus where there is an ongoing threat to the community.

“If the threat is still possible to other people, then we want people to know about it,” Mansfield said. “The Clery Act mandates that we put it out as quickly as possible, and we take it very seriously.”

The university is not mandated to send notifications if the suspect is in custody and there is no further potential danger, he said.

Kent State contracts Rave Mobile Safety, a national communications provider in Framingham, Mass., to provide the Flash Alerts.

Drafting the Flash Alert message originates with university police, who contact Mansfield and provide him with the necessary information. Mansfield then contacts his web team to condense the provided information into a maximum 160-character text message. The text message is then sent to all subscribers through the Rave website to alert the community of the emergency.

The whole process is completed within minutes, Mansfield said.

However, in moments of imminent danger, such as an active shooter on campus, the university police can shortcut this process and send the text messages themselves.

Mansfield said since it’s difficult to provide all of the necessary information in only 160 characters, the message usually contains a link to the Kent State website which contains more information.

The web team also provides information about the alert through a mass email and posts on the university’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Any significant updates of a continuing danger to campus will require additional text messages, Mansfield said.

“When things happen, we try to tell people as much as we can, as fast as we can and in as many ways as we can,” Mansfield said.

Sadar Muhammad, sophomore integrated social studies major, said sometimes the Flash Alert text messages can be annoying, but he understands their importance. He said when he received the alert during Halloween about the robbery on campus, it caused him to end his night out early and return home.

Mansfield said he knows receiving the alerts may seem trivial to some students, but he hopes they understand “the whole goal here is to keep people safe.”

“I hope people will see, that beyond it just being legal, that when someone does behavior like that on our campus, you never know what they’re going to do next,” he said. “So we want to make sure that everyone knows as much as we know as fast as we can tell them, so that they can take appropriate action and remain safe.”

Many students reported not receiving the Flash Alert text messages alerting students that school was cancelled Oct. 30 during Hurricane Sandy. Rave’s buildings were damaged, Mansfield said, during the storm, and its website had server damage.

This caused many of its customers, including Kent State, to experience a rare delay in receiving messages.

“We’ve had tremendous success with this system getting the information out with the exception of the storm,” he said.

Mansfield’s web team is typically responsible for sending out the Flash Alert messages because the members of the team can take the time to condense the information into a small text message.

Alicha Adams, sophomore business management major, said she initially signed up for Flash Alerts her freshman year during Destination Kent State to receive the free T-shirt but said it has been a very useful service.

“I have 7:45 a.m. classes and sometimes I don’t want to get out of bed until the last minute,” she said. “I don’t check my email a lot of times before I go to class, so it’s nice to know that class is cancelled.”

Students can sign up on the Flash Alerts website to receive text alert messages through text-enabled phones and other mobile devices about school cancellations and crime happening on campus.

Each subscriber can include up to five contact numbers as Flash Alert receivers. Each time subscribers change phone numbers, they need to update their new information on the Flash Alerts website to continue receiving the text message alerts.

Contact Amanda Crumm at [email protected].