Kent State considers text messaging during crises

Morgan Day

The Kent State Police Department will be looking into text messaging as another means of communication during emergencies, said John Peach, chief of police and director of public safety.

More than 500 colleges have contacted Omnilert to ask about the text messaging alerts since the shootings at Virginia Tech on April 16. And, at the 34 campuses that already use Omnilert, thousands of students have signed up to use it, according to USA Today.

Peach said although the service would provide another means of communication in a crisis, it doesn’t perfectly meet the needs of the university.

“It really is marketing other peoples’ products more than anything else,” Peach said. “If people rely on text messages from their universities, and they’re getting 17 deals from the Taco Bell, it’s like spam and they’re going to opt out of it.”

Nate Tuttle, junior athletic training major, said he is used to receiving a small number of unwanted texts from Kent State since he signed up for Mobile Campus, the university’s text service that launched in October 2006. He said these emergency alerts would be quicker and more efficient than e-mails.

President Lester Lefton said the text messaging service, which is different from Mobile Campus, would be under sole control of the Kent State Police Department and himself. Members of the university community would register their cell phone numbers on a Web site, which would not be sold or used for any other purpose than contacting them during emergencies.

Jessica Brookhouser, sophomore art history major, said she thinks students would be willing to give their phone numbers to the university to receive emergency texts. She said it would be a good idea because of how widely used cell phones are among college students.

“You might get a charge for a text message, but if it saves your life then I wouldn’t mind,” Brookhouser said.

Peach said Kent State’s emergency notification system already puts it far ahead of most of the universities in the county. Kent State has created a special committee to examine several features of its Emergency Management Plan, particularly notification.

He said the backbone of the notification system is the 100 monitors on campus, which can be found in every building and at each 24-hour area desk in residence halls.

“This allows Kent State University, that is the police department, to immediately notify everybody that there is an emergency, what the emergency is and what to do,” Peach said.

The police department receives an overwhelming amount of phone calls during emergencies, and a lot of the information it receives from callers is misleading because of their different perceptions of the incident. One difficulty would be making sure the messages sent by the police department go out both quickly and accurately.

“As with any emergency, sometimes you have to let the dust settle to see what’s going on,” he said.

Critics of texting emergency messages that tell students where to hide might direct a killer to the facility where everyone is a sitting duck, said Brett Sokolow, a lawyer who advises colleges on reducing risk, in the USA Today article.

Contact safety reporter Morgan Day at [email protected].