Knowing It All
College employs rapid alert service to keep students, faculty and staff in the know
- By Karina Sanchez
- Sep 05, 2007
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
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.”
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
"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,”
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
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
“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