Subscribe to The Brown Daily Herald Newsletter

Sign up for The Brown Daily Herald’s daily newsletter to stay up to date with what is happening at Brown and on College Hill no matter where you are right now!


Most of campus registers with emergency database

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Many students could have been blissfully unaware that a tropical storm was barreling down on Rhode Island at the beginning of November. But thanks to the University’s new emergency contact system, members of the Brown community were given advance warning about the high winds and rain that accompanied Tropical Storm Noel’s brush with New England 10 days ago.

In addition to a campus-wide e-mail warning about the storm, two e-mails were sent by the University in recent weeks urging students and staff to submit their contact information to Brown’s new emergency database system, which will be used to contact members of the community in the event of a crisis. The system is part of a wider campus effort to introduce new safety measures, including a series of sirens.

The database system has been in discussion since early last year. The idea of developing a way to contact members of the Brown community quickly became more of an issue after the April shootings at Virginia Tech University.

“We started before Virginia Tech, but certainly after Virginia Tech it was even more apparent to us that something was needed,” said Vice President of the Administration and Chief Risk Officer Walter Hunter.

So far about 3,600 undergraduates – 60 percent of the College student body – have registered their cell phone numbers in the database, as have 62 percent of staff, Hunter said. Though ideally all students would register their cell phone numbers, Hunter said that as long as most students have registered, emergency notifications should be effective. “When these (text) messages go out, the area gets pretty well saturated, even if not everyone gets the call at the same time,” Hunter said.

Some students expressed skepticism about the effectiveness of the new safety measures. Ulises Gutierrez ‘07.5 said he sees two problems with the instant notification system: first, that most students turn their cell phones off during classes, and second, that a substantial number of students do not have cell phones. “I know a lot of people who don’t have cell phones, so at that point, you’re only notifying a subgroup,” Gutierrez said.

Overall, Hunter said he was pleased with the response so far. “I’m sure that people’s awareness of the kinds of things that can happen on a campus is why there’s been receptivity to providing the University with cell numbers,” he said.

The database was created in cooperation with MIR3, a company that specializes in emergency notification systems. According to the severity of the situation, emergency notification can be sent in e-mails, text messages or over the phone, Hunter said. The president of MIR3 told the New York Times on Sept. 28 that the MIR3 system is in place at 70 universities and colleges.

The database works by automatically accessing a student or staff member’s contact information in the Brown directory – including e-mail addresses, Brown-owned land-line phone numbers, Brown-distributed cell phone numbers for some staff members and other pertinent contact information. The e-mails sent by Hunter’s office in recent weeks were intended to gather information that the University did not yet have, such as cell phone numbers and non-Brown land-line phone numbers for students living off campus.

Hunter said that in addition to the e-mails, the administration is considering various other methods of gathering cell phone numbers, including collecting the information on routine forms, providing incentives and even contacting students’ parents.

“We might follow up with students who have not registered by contacting their parents, urging them to urge their children to send their cell numbers to us,” Hunter said.

Several students were surprised to hear of the database system. “Maybe I deleted (the e-mail),” said Jessica Vosburgh ‘07.5, adding, “I hadn’t heard of it, but I would be fine with it.”

Though the University already has most student contact information on file, some students expressed concern about privacy – particularly earlier in the semester, when cell phone numbers provided by students as part of the new database were visible to any staff, faculty or students searching for an individual on the University’s Web site.

“At first it was frustrating because they hadn’t made access to that info (personal cell phone numbers) private, so they could be accessed by anyone (within the Brown community), but now they’ve changed that,” said Adam Hoffman ’10. “I suppose in principle, at least, it’s good to have.”

Students also expressed concern that the database could be distributed for solicitation, though most said such a situation is unlikely. “There’s definitely worry that (the database) could be used for something else, that cell numbers could be used for solicitation,” said Michele Baer ’10. Baer noted that when she attempted to register her cell phone number with the database, it was already there – possibly because of forms she filled out during Residential Peer Leader registration.

Hunter emphasized that access to the database will be limited to the Department of Public Safety, Environmental Health and Safety, Student Life and Computing and Information Services and that the information will not be distributed in any way.

The system has already been used to send out e-mail alerts, Hunter said, mentioning the tropical storm warning e-mail sent on Nov. 2.

Cell phone calls and text messages will only be used in a case of extreme emergency, such as a natural disaster or the presence of a gunman, Hunter added.

So far, most students said the new security measures have had little impact on their lives. “I guess because I’m on my way out already, I don’t think about it, and I’m not anticipating any emergency,” Gutierrez said, adding that he can see how the system might make underclassmen feel safer.

“Overall, I guess it does make me feel safer,” said Victoria Hsu ’09. “I guess I should register.”

To stay up-to-date, subscribe to our daily newsletter.

Comments are closed.

Comments are closed. If you have corrections to submit, you can email The Herald at