By Liam Kinney
On July 18, there was an armed robbery near Palm Drive and Palo Road. On September 10, a sexual batter was reported on Lake Lagunita path. And early on the morning of Sept. 28, a student named Joseph went missing in some “tan bark” near Bowdoin Street and Campus Drive, but was found safely 30 minutes later.
The Stanford community was alerted to these incidents through text messages from the AlertSU emergency notification system, one of the ways the Stanford University Department of Public Safety (SUDPS) helps keep students informed about crime and potential threats on campus.
According to Stanford police spokesperson Bill Larson, the system is also part of Stanford’s compliance with the Clery Act, a federal law that requires universities to disclose information about crime on campus.
The AlertSU technology transmits a message to the entire student body through a text message, email and phone calls. There are only 10 people—including the university president, the director of the Stanford News Service and the executive director of IT services—who are qualified to send messages, but approximately 40,000 people receive them.
“We don’t really believe that we are going to have 40,000 people simultaneously become aware of something,” said Kathy Harris, emergency manager and community outreach coordinator for SUDPS. “The rule of thumb in emergency notification is the rule of 60 percent.”
The idea of emergency management is that if you can reach 60 percent [of the community], they’re going to tell a colleague,” Harris continued. “That’s a pretty reasonable level of awareness to expect from that kind of system.”
Harris said that text messages can be the most unpredictable form of notification in the AlertSU arsenal.
“Students may receive them at different times or not at all,” Harris said. “The system sends them out immediately, but we have no control over how the cell phone vendors batch them. We have weekly meetings with our vendors to make sure they’re doing everything to expedite that.”
The AlertSU system can also be used to make sure people are safe in case of emergency. According to an email sent to the student body, the Stanford Office of Emergency Management is scheduled to conduct a test of the system on Oct. 11. Recipients will be asked to respond to specific questions to assess the system’s effectiveness in accounting for people during an actual emergency.
The test was originally scheduled for Oct 10., but according to an email sent to the student body that afternoon by Emergency Manager Keith Perry, it was postponed because of technical difficulties related to the third-party vendor that Stanford contracts to send the messages.
According to Perry, accounting for everybody on campus would be one of the biggest challenges during an emergency like an earthquake. Perry said that the electronic system would work in conjunction with physical check-ins at emergency assembly points.
“If we don’t have a response from someone electronically,” Perry said, “we can try to track them down and get information about them from other channels.”
While Larson and Harris will continue their efforts to streamline the system, they insist that the most valuable resource for them is student cooperation. They encourage students interested in emergency notification and general campus safety to check out the 2013 Safety, Security and Fire Report available at police.stanford.edu.
Jana Persky contributed to this report.
Contact Liam Kinney at liamk ‘at’ stanford.edu.
A previous version of this article said that the AlertSU technology transmits a message through KZSU student radio station, when in fact, that method is a separate part of the emergency notification system. The article left out that AlertSU also transmits messages through phone calls. The article also implied that different notifications go out through different methods, when in fact, all alerts are sent through all mediums. The Daily regrets these errors.