March 4, 2008

Cornell Improves Delivery of Emergency Notification

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With the recent tragedies at Northern Illinois University still fresh in the minds of members of the Cornell community, the University has continued to develop the emergency alert system that was first tested this past November. In addition to improving the notification system, students and administrators have emphasized using a preventative approach to strengthen services aimed at improving the emotional health of students on campus.
The administration has resolved the issues in text message delivery that surfaced during a test of the University’s emergency notification system on Nov. 7 when many members of the community who had signed up to receive emergency alerts via text message, voice mail and e-mail received the messages several hours after the 12:15 p.m. target time.[img_assist|nid=28510|title=Text box|desc=Cornell has made changes to its Emergency Text Message System to ensure that messages will be delivered quickly and efficiently to members of the University community.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
According to Richard McDaniel, vice president for risk management and public safety, a second full-scale test successfully delivered text message alerts through three of the four phone service carriers within twenty minutes. AlertNow, the vendor for the University’s electronic mass notification system, in conjunction with the administration, has since identified and corrected the flaw that delayed delivery of messages through the forth carrier during the second test.
Since messages can now be delivered through all four cell phone carriers, the AlertNow notification infrastructure is currently a “fully functional, solid baseline system,” McDaniel said.
However, he stressed the importance of having more than one communication infrastructure in place.
2SMS, a short messaging system capable of delivering emergency messages that Cornell has had in place for years, has been linked to the emergency address database used by AlertNow. This system can be used as a backup to Alert Now.
Additionally, NY Alert — an emergency notification system for the State of New York that also sends emergency alerts via voice message, text messages, e-mail and fax — is expected to be fully functional by the end of the semester. Cornell will be the first large private institution to implement the system, which will serve as the third emergency notification system that Cornell could use if needed.
The University is additionally in the process of installing four sirens, demonstrating the University’s commitment to a multi-channel notification. The sirens are also equipped with a public announcement system.
In terms of emergency notification procedures, “Cornell is ahead of the curve, both in terms of volunteer enrollment and the use of multiple systems,” McDaniel said.
Currently, approximately 58 percent of the entire campus community in Ithaca has signed up to receive campus-wide emergency notification messages — a percentage that McDaniel is pleased with, considering the sign-up is done through a voluntary opt-in process.
The University’s commitment to emergency notification has been paralleled by student and administrative initiatives to improve students’ well being on campus. Over the past decade, mental health professionals at Cornell have engaged in work “dedicated to lowering the stigma associated with seeking mental health services” according to Gregory Eells, director of psychological services at Cornell.
He indicated that much success has been made in doing so.
The increased willingness to seek help has occurred in conjunction with better mental health treatment services. According to Eells, psychotherapy services are more researched than ever before.
Cornell has received national recognition for its Community Consultation Intervention, a mental health outreach effort in which two individuals are employed solely to identify and reach out to students in distress who are unable to access traditional mental health services for any reason.
In terms of student initiatives, the Student Assembly voted this past semester to provide by-line funding to Minds Matter for the 2008 academic school year. Minds Matter is an organization that works to promote the mental well being of students, and to connect students with appropriate resources on campus. The organization holds events of varying scale that have included relieving stress through writing and recognizing depression in friends.
“Different individuals come to different events based on their needs,” said Minds Matter President Dahlia Raymond ’08. Raymond said that in the upcoming semester the organization hopes to target specific audiences including the international, transfer and Greek communities.
Additionally, President David Skorton and Vice President Susan Murphy verbally committed to moving forward to create a space on campus devoted to Asian and Asian-America student support at a meeting this past Thursday, according to Rebecca Lee ’08, president of the Asian and Asian-American Student Forum. They plan to officially establish a committee by spring break that will aim to finalize plans for the space by the end of summer.
The establishment of a community center aimed at supporting the Asian and Asian-American student population as well as the increasing presence of Minds Matter is a part of the larger sentiment on campus recognizing the importance of students’ emotional well being. These efforts aimed at prevention accompany improvements to the emergency notification system. The two-pronged approach demonstrates Cornell’s comprehensive approach to crisis management in light of recent tragedies.