Emory Report
September 17, 2007
Volume 60, Number 4

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September 17, 2007
Emory adds new tool to emergency notification system

By elaine justice

This is a test. It is only a test!

But next time Clifton Road gridlocks because of a gas main break, or a severe weather warning requires a quick alert, or any other sudden emergency paralyzes campus, Emory administrators will have an additional communications tool in their arsenal of responses.

Emory’s Office of Critical Event Preparedness and Response is planning a university-wide test of one of Emory’s new emergency notification systems at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19. The test will be sent in the form of e-mails to all Emory faculty, staff and student addresses. The electronic e-mail notification system is one feature of a product called e.Notify, which the university recently purchased from Amcom.

“This is just one element of a comprehensive plan to further improve the University’s ability to deliver a coordinated and effective emergency notification to all members of the Emory community,” said Alex Isakov, executive director of CEPAR. Isakov is leading an implementation team of Emory administrators who are working towards a phased rollout of the new system over the next two months. “The time and resources dedicated to this project by the very talented members of this multi-disciplinary team has been essential to moving this initiative forward.”

The e-mail message that faculty, staff and students will receive Sept. 19 will clearly identify that it is a test, said Bob Nadolski, senior administrator of CEPAR. No action is necessary on the recipients’ part.

“We are testing our ability to distribute an e-mail and the speed at which the message is delivered,” said Nadolski, adding that he anticipates there will be significant delays in some test e-mails getting through to some recipients. “Because Emory is both the distributor and receiver of the information, we’ll be able to measure how quickly it’s dispersed to individuals’ e-mail boxes.

“What it can’t do is control the speed with which someone checks their e-mail or text messages,” said Nadolski. “We know most people don’t read e-mail continuously throughout the day, so for emergency notification, we are looking to text messaging as the first and most universally accessible way to reach people.”

That is why the University will begin collecting cell phone and PDA data this fall, in order to be able to push out a large number of automated text messages very quickly, he said. “We will use a variety of means this fall to seek cell phone information for students, faculty and staff, so that we can craft a robust database for use when emergency notification is required.”

One strength of e.Notify is that it can send messages to a variety of devices. “The system allows us to send one message to multiple media as a text message to e-mail addresses, or to cell phones,” said Nadolski.
“We recognize that each type of technology we are implementing has its limitations,” said Isakov. “The more avenues and devices we can use to provide information quickly, the more people will understand what they need to do to keep themselves safe in emergency situations.”

Other strategies being adopted as part of the emergency notification plan are a siren/public address system for the Atlanta and Oxford campuses, a banner messaging system for Emory TV, and AM broadcast transmission capabilities. Each of these communication tools will be tested and evaluated for speed and effectiveness as it is integrated into the overall plan, Nadolski said.

From an implementation perspective, e.Notify has advantages over the current listserv system, said Nadolski. e.Notify can segregate messages by schools, by buildings, by areas of the campus, or other configurations.
“For example if there’s something going on at a residence hall or academic building, we will be able to quickly target people associated with that residence hall or building without having to send information to various listservs,” said Nadolski.