Knowing It All

College employs rapid alert service to keep students, faculty and staff in the know

THE carefree days of college are not far from most peoples’ minds. But in college, security was hardly an issue. In fact, many oncampus residents didn’t think twice about leaving their doors unlocked while in class or at work. And though the security culture has recently changed on college campuses, it seems as though students’ perception has not.

“Students here are not concerned with security,” said Aaron Fetrow, dean for campus life for Guilford College.

While students almost unknowingly enjoy the comforts of a secure campus, Guilford College is hard at work in keeping security top-of-mind. The school is situated in Greensboro, N.C. The Quaker-founded college opened in 1837 as New Garden Boarding School and transformed itself into a four-year liberal arts college in 1888. Today, it is the fourth-oldest degree-granting institution in North Carolina and one of the few campuses in the nation listed by the Department of the Interior as a National Historic District. Though the campus spans an impressive 125 acres, the college also owns 225 acres of woodlands, some of which aren’t fenced in.

“We don’t discourage the public from using the trails in the wooded areas, but with that comes worries with drug trafficking and security issues,” Fetrow said. “We work with the Greensboro Police Department on establishing patrols of the woods, and we recently added a fourwheel- drive golf cart to help in patrolling those areas.

“Another focus for our public safety department is community policing— more foot patrols, more interaction with faculty, staff and students.”

Security Afoot
The need for a closer interaction with students, faculty and staff also led the college to install a rapid communications service. To that effort, the school employed Safe-T-Net’s AlertNow. AlertNow is a Web-based application service provider that enables schools to deliver thousands of voice or text messages, in up to 11 different languages, to telephones, mobile phones, PDAs or any Internet-enabled device.

Fetrow simply logs in to the AlertNow Web site, picks up the phone and dials in, records his voice alert and selects which recipients the message is intended for. Within minutes, those recipients receive a call or text message. But, Fetrow admits, after buying into the service in 2004, the college didn’t use it for a year.

“AlertNow called us and said, ‘you’re paying for this list, at least put some people in it,’” Fetrow said.

And that’s what prompted the college to garner emergency contact numbers from those willing to volunteer the information. Out of the 2,100 full-time students, Fetrow was able to secure 800 cell phone numbers. And in February, the school experienced its first major event since installing the communications service: an ice storm. Fetrow sent a voicemail to those 800 students who had volunteered their emergency contact numbers, telling them that classes had been cancelled.

“A lot of students came up to me the next day and said, ‘Hey that was really cool; thanks for sending me a message,’” Fetrow said.

The college intends to use the service for emergency weather alerts, such as ice and snow delays, recruiting purposes, HazMat spills or fire in buildings.

Signing Up
"The Virginia Tech incident definitely raised awareness of the service, and at that time we received about 2,000 voluntary numbers. So now we have all faculty, staff and almost all of our students participating,” Fetrow said.

Incidents like Virginia Tech remind people that security is always an issue. In most instances, threats come unexpectedly, and having an emergency plan in place will help people recover from those threats.

“Emergency preparedness is essential now. It’s something you must have—the ability to get accurate information to the stakeholders immediately whenever a situation has transpired. Or after a situation has taken place, you send a recovery message that gives information about how you managed the situation and the outcome,” said Jason Bedford, director of sales for AlertNow.

Guilford College students, faculty and staff are able to distinguish an AlertNow emergency message by the 2-911 number that appears on caller ID, as opposed to Fetrow’s own office phone number, which signals a non-emergency alert. In addition, the college employs a layered approach when it comes to emergency communication.

“Katrina, Virginia Tech and 9/11 taught us that cell phones crash; systems might be busy and you may not get a cell phone call through,” Fetrow said.

Hence the school’s reason for also posting alerts on its Web site and G-Announce, an e-mail alert that goes out directly from Fetrow’s desk.

Knowing Everything
“To be able to communicate accurate information to people who need it is truly the missing part to every crisis plan,” Bedford said.

Rapid communications is a critical piece for evacuation, relocation and lockdown situations in both K-12 and higher education institutions, Bedford said. And school districts employing rapid communication services are seeing the benefits beyond security.

“The school principals that access AlertNow on a routine basis have seen tremendous gains when re-engaging the parent community and making them a part of the learning process,” Bedford said. “It has changed the way districts do business and has raised the expectation level from parents.”

“When parents found out days after Virginia Tech that we already used a rapid communications system, they were very impressed with our preparedness. Students, who already knew about it, more or less just expected it,” Fetrow said.

And that might not be a sign of taking security for granted, but rather a mirror of society, for, according to Oscar Wilde, “The old believe everything, the middle-aged suspect everything and the young know everything.”

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