Emergency alert sirens could be installed on campus by the end of the semester, if the City Council passes legislation approving them. Ward 1 City Councilman Seth Yurdin introduced an ordinance last month that would lay the groundwork for such a system to be established. The legislation was referred to the Ordinance Committee.
Yurdin said legislators will address the ordinance after the University contacts relevant neighborhood groups about the sirens. “Once the University comes in with information about how it has talked to the community it will move along,” Yurdin said.
Vice President of Administration and Chief Risk Officer Walter Hunter said there will be an Ordinance Committee meeting at the end of the month to review the draft ordinance that has been proposed.
The emergency siren system will only be set off in the case of a hostile intruder, a large chemical release near campus or a natural disaster, according to the Brown Environmental Health and Safety Web site. If the sirens are ever activated, they will be used in conjunction with an emergency notification system that will use cell phone and landline calls, text messages and e-mails to give people further instruction, Hunter said.”The siren is just to have people seek shelter and get additional information,” he said.
University administrators are attempting to coordinate the system with the city of Providence so that non-student residents of College Hill will also be notified in an emergency. “The city has a reverse 911 system, so the city can send out a message to residents about the nature of the emergency,” Hunter said. “Residents will be called, so if they hear the siren, they can go on our Web site and see what the alert is about.”
When asked for comment on the proposed alert system, Fox Point Neighborhood Association President Daisy Schnepel said, “We don’t have any neighborhood reaction as yet” because they have not yet spoken with a University representative about the sirens. The FPNA board and Darrell Brown, the University’s director for state and community relations, will meet Oct. 24.
Schnepel said she asked Brown for a tape of how the siren would sound. The Herald obtained from Hunter an MP3 file of the siren, which will emit a medium-pitched, continuous noise, unlike the repeating high-pitched sound made by a traditional alarm.
Schnepel said the sirens are a necessary alert system, but she expressed concern that neighborhood residents will still need some other mode of notification about the nature of the emergency.
“If for example – and this is a horrible example – there is a mass murderer on campus and he or she has done something and they’re free in the neighborhood … it would be good to have some link to, say, a radio station so that people would know what’s going on,” Schnepel said.
The College Hill Neighborhood Association will also meet with a University representative about the sirens. CHNA President William Touret would not comment on the alert system in advance of the meeting.
Chooky DeBeaulieu, the owner of Yang’s, a retail shop on Thayer Street, said she does not mind the proposed sirens. “When we used to have a siren everyday at noon, it was a sense of security,” said DeBeaulieu, who grew up during the Cold War.
“We need it as much if not more now than we did then,” she added, making reference to last spring’s shooting at Virginia Tech.
Not many Brown students seem to be aware of the proposed system, but those who are indicated support. “It seems like before this whole thing started, (Brown) didn’t really have a way of alerting people if something was going on,” said Maria Capecelatro ’10. “So I think the sirens will be a good idea, especially since our campus is so small, and you most likely will be able to hear it.”
“It seems like these are things that we need to be prepared for,” she added. “Even though it seems … excessive now, you never know what could happen.”
If the City Council passes the legislation, Brown will install the system manufactured by the Whelen Engineering Company, which has many natural disaster alert systems already in use in the Midwest, according to Hunter.
At the Brown University Community Council meeting last Tuesday, Hunter briefed the council about the progress of the system thus far. According to Hunter, an e-mail was issued Sept. 26 asking students to enter their cell phone number on their Brown “MyAccount” page. Within 72 hours, 1,856 out of approximately 6,000 Brown students responded giving their cell phone numbers. Hunter said the University will continue to encourage students to enter their numbers in the following weeks.
According a Sept. 30 New York Times article, officials at St. John’s University in Queens, New York used a similar text-messaging system last week to inform students and faculty members of a gunman on campus. Though there were at least 10,000 students on campus at the time of the incident, St. John’s officials said the text-messaging system allowed campus security officers to ensure all students’ safety.
A similar event occurred on the first day of classes at the University of Colorado in Boulder in August, when a text-message alert was sent from university officials alerting students of a stabbing on campus. While only 1,300 people hadsigned up for the university’s new alert system, nearly 8,000 of the University’s 28,000 students had enrolled witin five days. Neither of these universities’ emergency alert systems included sirens.