Tech students were shown the full capabilities of the TechAlert!, the university’s emergency alert system, when a construction crew accidentally cracked a gas line Jan. 31.
Students were alerted via phone call, text message, email, and even Facebook and Twitter, when the gas line broke.
Ronald Phillips is an attorney for Tech and the administrator in charge of the emergency alert system.
“Most, if not all, universities around the United States have some sort of system like this in place,” he said. “In an emergency situation, we have to communicate quickly and continuously throughout the event.”
Phillips said the goal is to alert students as soon as there is a problem and keep them updated as more information is received. The system was implemented about four years ago and all students and faculty are automatically added to the database.
“A lot of this stems from the Virginia Tech incident in 2007,” Phillips said. “Virginia Tech was actually fined by the Department of Education after the incident because they did not notify students in a timely manner.”
In the case of the gas leak, Phillips said the city government asked Tech to alert students despite the incident taking place off-campus. The university was alerted by the city that the gas leak could affect students because of a temporary shutdown of University Avenue.
“Here, we have Tech working with another jurisdiction to better protect and inform the students,” he said.
Students received three notifications throughout the day. The first let students know about the leak, the second updated students on road closures and the third was an all-clear.
The TechAlert! system was called into question last summer when a rumor spread that an armed gunman was on campus and a notification was not sent out. Phillips clarified what actually happened.
“A call came in that there was a man on campus carrying a rifle and Tech police were deployed,” he said. “Just as we were about to send an alert, the police called and said it was actually a ROTC member returning their dummy rifles used for drill.”
TechAlert! can also be used for other occurrences such as bad weather and school closings. Phillips said many other universities use their alert systems to remind students of other non-emergency situations like tuition payment dates and school events.
“We only use the system for emergencies because we don’t want the messages to be taken lightly and ignored,” he said.