As Brown began testing its emergency notification system last month, college administrators across the country have had mixed results in getting students to sign up for their schools' emergency notification systems.
About 60 percent of undergraduate students at Brown have made their cell phone numbers available to the administration, said Walter Hunter, vice president of administration and chief risk officer. The administration also has access to all students' e-mail addresses and can make use of a campus siren in case of emergency.
Even though not all Brown undergrads have given out their cell phone numbers, the rate of participation at Brown is still higher than at many other schools, Hunter said. He cited a Feb. 28 Associated Press article, which found that the emergency system e2campus, used at more than 500 campuses nationwide, had an average enrollment rate of 39 percent among students, faculty and staff. Schools using other providers have also seen low participation rates, the AP reported.
California Polytechnic State University, one of the schools using e2campus, currently has an enrollment rate of 12 percent among students, staff and faculty, said Vicki Stover, associate vice president of administration at Cal Poly. The service was made available to a limited group of people last November and has been available to the entire campus since January of this year, Stover said.
Other schools have seen a sharp rise in participation after their campuses were threatened. St. John's University in New York, which uses the same MIR3 service Brown does, only had about 2,000 people enroll in the emergency texting service in the first few weeks of September, said Tom Lawrence, vice president for public safety at St. John's. But after Sept. 26, when a gunman came onto campus, "numbers went dramatically up," Lawrence said, adding that 82 percent of the school's approximately 20,000 students are currently enrolled in the service.
When administrators were alerted to the gunman, texts were sent out to students to stay in place until the police could ascertain the campus was secure. St. John's student Eliveth Saenz told The Herald she received the text notification since she had signed up for the service before the gunman came on campus.
"The incident that took place in September made me appreciate that I had signed up for this service ahead of time," Saenz wrote in an e-mail to The Herald.
Vin Fulgieri, another St. John's student, wrote in an e-mail that the Sept. 26 incident changed his opinion on his school's emergency notification system.
"Since the incident, I think the notification system is a good thing," Fulgieri wrote. Fulgieri did not sign up for the texting service until after the gunman threat. "That incident got a lot of people to realize things like this can happen anywhere at anytime," he said. "It's definitely a little more reassuring that we will be aware when something is happening."
Fulgieri's apathy prior to the incident reflects the attitude of many Brown students interviewed by The Herald. Paul Jeng '10 said he hadn't signed up to receive emergency texts because he "didn't feel like it."
"I know at least two people who (signed up)," he said, adding that most of his friends hadn't signed up.
Matt Greenberg '11 also said most of his friends hadn't signed up. He didn't remember signing up himself, but he did receive the text accompanying the siren test in February.
Other students interviewed by The Herald weren't aware of the existence of the notification systems at their schools. Sharon Chiu, a student at Cal Poly, thought that emergency texting would be helpful should the situation arise, but did not know that the service was already available. At Brown, Jadie Detolla '08 also said she and her friends were not aware the texting service existed.
Stover said she thinks many students haven't registered yet because phone carriers charge some customers for each text message received, and students do not want the extra charge. She also said some students might not have had a chance to register yet.
Hunter voiced similar reasoning, saying he thought the system used for sign-ups might have been overloaded when Brown students first tried to enroll and that students might not have had the chance to try again.
Schools around the country have used various methods to increase student awareness and participation. "There are some campuses that do stuff to encourage or incentivize students to enroll in a system," said Melanie Kuderka, director of marketing for MIR3. She said that some schools have used drawings for prizes to encourage students to sign up for the texting service. "It sounds like it takes a little more encouragement to get people involved," she said.
In New York, St. John's has been "proactive in pushing people to sign up," Lawrence said. Administrators used the self-service system Banner, which all students use to register for classes and check grades, to ask users to sign up for the texting service. When students logged into the system, a screen popped up prompting them to opt in or opt out of the program. "We've only had less than a thousand people opt out," Lawrence said.
And many administrators emphasized the importance of a complete emergency notification system, one in which text messaging is only a small part. "This is just another way we're going to communicate," Stover said. Text messaging seems to be a popular medium of communication, but it isn't the only one Cal Poly would use in case of an emergency, she added.
Lawrence also felt that using different methods of communication would be effective at St. John's. "If we implement multiple measures we'll be able to (notify) most of the people," he said. "We don't think there's one silver bullet that's gonna get everybody."
Still, the importance of text messages during emergencies should not be underestimated, students at St. John's said. "I had the attitude of 'nothing is gonna happen,'" Fulgieri said. "Unfortunately it took something like the (gunman) incident for me to be like 'Ok, fine I'll do it,' and I think that sadly will be the case for a lot of students who haven't signed up yet."