TTU reviews emergency notification plan after tornadoes

New text messaging system implemented

After tornadoes devastated surrounding counties and Union University, college campuses across the region are reviewing their emergency plans.

Tennessee Tech University, already in emergency planning mode for months, just implemented a new emergency text messaging system last week, one part of a broad emergency notification plan that incorporates both new technology and traditional systems for alerts.

Last Thursday TTU began using the TTUAlert text messaging system in partnership with a company called Rave Wireless, an emergency notification company providing service to campuses nationwide. The new system can send emergency broadcast text messages using a more reliable electronic format than previously used.

The TTUAlert system is voluntary, so students, faculty and staff can choose whether they want to register to receive TTUAlert notifications. Anyone with a TTU e-mail address can register at http://www.tntech.edu/ttualert.

“This system is one of several notification options we have,” said Jim Cobb, director of Campus Safety and Environmental Services. “But this one offers direct communication to someone’s cell phone or e-mail address. This is one more way to improve the likelihood that you hear about an emergency situation in a timely way.”

Online registration for the system is simple. Text messaging registration requires only a valid TTU e-mail address and cell phone number. Even those without a cell phone can register to receive the same messages via e-mail alone.

“We only plan to send notifications through the TTUAlert system for events that impact the majority of the campus, such as tornado warnings, campus closures or other emergencies,” said Cobb. “But periodically we’ll send a test notification to verify the system.”

The system can only send messages of 132 characters in length. When campus officials decide to send a message, they also plan to be ready to follow up with more information through additional text messages, e-mail messages, web postings and media announcements.

The TTUAlert system also offers the choice of signing up on non-emergency channels to receive other messages, such as non-life threatening weather notices (tornado watch or cancellations due to weather that would not affect the majority of students or staff). Other optional non-emergency channels may be offered later.

In addition to the text messages, TTU plans to use a variety of other means of communication in an emergency, Cobb said.

“Union University did an exceptional job of communicating through new media, like Facebook and blog pages on the web. We’ve set up systems to do the same. But we can also use more traditional forms of alerts, like sirens and public address systems.”

TTU’s emergency notification options include:

• Broadcast e-mail messages can be sent to all campus e-mail addresses for students, faculty and staff.
• Alerts can be posted on the web at the TTU home page (http://www.tntech.edu), on TTU's Facebook site, and at TTUEmergency.blogspot.com.
• A single-point activation public address systems in most campus buildings will announce emergency warnings over the fire alarm speakers within the buildings and can be activated from a single location. (See a list of buildings with the new fire alarm systems at http://www.tntech.edu/ehs/notification.html.)
• For those buildings where the new fire alarm system has not yet been installed, a telephone speaker public address system will announce emergency warnings over the digital phone speaker. (The Appalachian Center for Craft and the Hyder-Burks Ag Pavilion each has its own separate phone and fire alarm system.)
• Residential buildings (dorms and Tech Village apartments) that do not have the fire alarm public address system installed will be notified using a calling program to telephone rooms within the residence halls and in Tech Village. The system will dial 60 phone numbers at a time. For that reason, a programmed ring-down system will begin dialing numbers in a specified order.
• Outdoor sirens can be activated during an emergency situation. The primary purpose of the sirens is to warn anyone outdoors of the emergency. A public address system on the siren may be used. It can be activated from a single location or at the siren itself.
• Local and regional media - radio and television stations - will be notified as needed.
• As a last resort, public address systems on University Police cars can be used.

For more details on the TTUAlert system, visit the “Frequently Asked Questions” page at http://www.tntech.edu/ttualert. TTU’s comprehensive emergency response plan is available online at https://www.tntech.edu/ehs.

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