November 8, 2007

C.U. Text Alert Test Proves Inconsistent

Print More

An effort by Cornell to test its new emergency system at noon yesterday was anything but successful, as many students reported either receiving the alerts long after the targeted time — or not receiving them at all.
According to Simeon Moss ’73, director of Cornell Press Relations, the goal was to send all messages — which were delivered via text message, voice message and e-mail — by 12:15 p.m.
In order to be sent a message from the alert system, students had to have submitted current information to Several students who reported providing the information did not get text messages, while others received the messages as late as 5 p.m.
Richard McDaniel, vice president for risk management and public safety, whose office coordinated the test system, said, “We did an initial, wide-scale test of our emergency notification systems … voice message test exceeded expectations, delivering over 2,700 messages in just over six minutes. We are investigating issues related to the text messaging and the back-up e-mail system,” McDaniel said.
According to a Nov. 1 press release, 85 percent of the 17,297 people who signed up for emergency messaging provided their cell phone number for text messaging. People able to receive text messages were not scheduled to receive voice messages.
Whatever the issues that prevented the text messages from being delivered, the system failed to meet the expectations McDaniel set out prior to the alert.
In the same University release, McDaniel stated, “Text messages can be sent much faster than voice messages … We can send SMS [short message service] messages of up to 110 characters at a rate of 40,000 to 60,000 per hour.”
According to The Indianapolis Star, a program test at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. successfully sent 9,979 text messages in seven minutes. Student replies, which Purdue solicited, began returning within the first minute.
Moss said the time frame in which certain people got messages at Cornell was “not optimal.”
“I’m sure there will be further tests,” he said.
Rob Pyronneau ’10 received a text message at 12:23 p.m., less than 10 minutes after the targeted time of the message.
“I didn’t think twice about it,” Pyronneau said. “I assumed everyone got the message.”
Joe Kripke ’10, however, was not texted until 4:38 p.m. Kripke was having lunch with a fellow student who was texted hours before he was.
“He got [a text], and I figured I wasn’t in the system,” Kripke said. “Obviously there was a failure in the system.”
Both students felt that the most effective system would alert students of a campus emergency within five to 10 minutes of an occurrence.
The University announced the updates to the “Who I Am” system, which included the text messaging capabilities, at the beginning of this year. Part of the new communication methods in the event of an emergency included four sirens to be placed around campus. The sirens were not immediately installed, as the University sought ways to make them aesthetically pleasing.