Grace Amsden, Editor-in-chief
Technology is consistently used by students and faculty at Pierce College Puyallup. Besides entertainment, studying and teaching purposes, technology is also used for the college emergency notification system.
The system’s purpose is to alert the Pierce College community of a matter that needs to be notified quickly, such as an active shooter on campus, threat, fire or natural disaster. It pertains to an evacuation. The system is also used for informing campus closures due to weather conditions or power outages.
“If we think we’ve got information where we believe that there’s an imminent threat to the college or college personnel, an emergency notification is that essentially we need to send some message out right now,” Chris MacKersie, director of safety and security, said.
Notifications can be sent to someone’s cellphone, home phone, through text messaging and email.
The network used for this is Everbridge, a mass emergency notification system for Pierce County utilized by emergency personnel. It’s provided for free to colleges in Pierce County through the Emergency Management Division. Therefore, it’s free to Pierce College.
“We were looking for something that was reliable and tested, and they have their own information technology crew that maintains it,” Brian Benedetti, director of marketing and communication, said.
Another notification system, GovDelivery, was tested last year for the Great Washington Shakeout drill at Pierce College to see how it’d compare with Everbridge. The results proved that Everbridge did as well or better than GovDelivery, according to MacKersie.
“All the colleges (within Pierce County), even the private colleges, are eligible to use the county system,” MacKersie said. “It’s free, and it’s a really good commercial system. Pretty much everybody in the county is using it, a majority at the very least.”
On Feb. 6, 2015, the emergency notification system was used because of a hazardous material threat at the Puyallup campus. A man had abandoned his car in the walkway of the Brouillet Library/Science Building. A white substance was inside the car and on the dashboard was a note believed to be a threatening message.
Reports of this being a bomb threat spread throughout campus, but it was later determined that the substance was baking soda.
“There’s not very many people on campus safety, so their hands were filled right away and they were very busy,” Benedetti said, “but we were in direct contact with them. We got that alert from them immediately and we dealt with it.”
Some employees didn’t receive notifications during this incident because of a problem with data updating in the system. Some of the data didn’t update appropriately, but testing is being performed at the minimum of once per quarter to make sure it’s working properly, according to MacKersie.
Next time in an emergency, more notifications need to be sent without too long of a delay, according to Benedetti. A lack of communication in this situation resulted in people were wondering when they’d receive information, according to Pierce College Puyallup President Marty Cavalluzzi. An incident commander from the fire department took charge and before buildings were evacuated, the situation was assessed.
“Part of it is you have a smartphone and you think you have instantaneous information, but it’s not time to know,” Cavalluzzi said.
Cavalluzzi said the situation was a great training exercise for members at the campus because no one got hurt.
“I think we have a good system in place and we are looking all the time to improve it,” Cavalluzzi said. “I think we can always improve communication, but I think it works.”
After each quarter, the system removes every Pierce student’s name to filter out former students, though employees only need to sign up once. Employees can be removed if they leave the college or unsubscribe from the system.
In the past, former students voiced complaints about continuing to receive messages and asked to be removed from the list, according to Benedetti. Quarterly updating also reminds students about the system, but some students may not know about it.
“I used to have it at my other college, but I don’t think I signed up for (it at) Pierce,” student Marlie St. Clair said. “I didn’t know it was available.”
When students register for classes, their student email is uploaded automatically into the system but they can select additional notifications to receive. To view notification settings, students can log into MyPierce and find the tab emergency notifications. Another way is through the campus safety page on the Pierce website as under the emergency preparedness tab is the emergency notifications link.
Employees can sign up by logging into the Intranet, selecting the tab electronic resources and clicking on emergency notifications.
There’s other ways for notifying besides the emergency notification system. There’s FlashAlert, a system that sends out breaking news, weather notifications, delays and closures that are shared through radio stations and television. Those wanting more notifications can go to www.flashalert.net to subscribe.
Social media is also used for providing alerts at Pierce College.
“It’s just another avenue of our communication that we use,” Benedetti said. “Twitter and Facebook are big ones. It all takes time to get this out, and we want to get the message out as fast as we possibly can.”
Emergency alerts called net notifiers can be sent through the computer monitors on campus, such as in the computer centers and library. The Pierce College website can be replaced by an emergency page providing updates for a situation, as well.
Depending on the weather conditions this winter, MacKersie expects that the emergency notification system may be used soon. Due to the local power outages that occurred Nov. 17, an emergency message might have been sent out if the power went out on campus, Cavalluzzi said.
“We would have closed the college, cancelled classes and started the evacuation process,” Cavalluzzi said. “It can happen anytime.”
Currently, MacKersie said it’s important to raise awareness toward the emergency notification system for students and faculty to update their profile.
“We’re trying to on a regular basis to get the message out: Please update your profile,” MacKersie said. “However you want us to communicate with you, we can’t do it unless we know (where to send the notifications).”
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