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ETSU’s new siren part of ongoing safety efforts

Rex Barber • Jul 12, 2012 at 9:21 PM

East Tennessee State University officials are continually adding to, reviewing and improving the school’s already varied emergency alert system.

Since the Virginia Tech massacre of 32 students in the spring of 2007, campus security and notification of emergencies has become a priority at many colleges across the country. ETSU is no exception to this practice. To date, ETSU has about $1 million invested in communications and emergency preparedness. A committee on emergency preparedness meets regularly to analyze the school’s efforts.

The newest addition to the school’s alert notification system is a siren that has been installed on the Veterans Affairs Medical Center campus at Mountain Home. That campus houses the James H. Quillen College of Medicine, the Bill Gatton College of Pharmacy and other ETSU programs.

The new siren was tested for the first time earlier this week.

“The safety of our students is paramount,” said Kathy Kelley, associate vice president of administrative services at ETSU and a member of the committee.

The emergency notifications system at ETSU includes an outdoor warning system with five siren towers, email and text alert blasts through a program called GoldAlert, updates to the school’s website for pertinent information, utilization of social media like Facebook and Twitter and a rather new program from a company called Alertus that provides emergency communications to every computer on the ETSU network through pop-ups that fill the screen with a message.

“It is part of our overall mass notification system. It takes over every computer in our network,” Kelley said of Alertus, adding the school strives to provide pertinent information to students through multiple channels. “So we’ve got multiple ways to notify staff and students and others who may be on campus.”

The service from Alertus was obtained within the last year by a grant and the program is available to the general public.

Students with laptop computers that are linked to the ETSU system will receive an Alertus message should an emergency prompt activation of the program. Student computer labs are on the network, too. Most classrooms now have computers, so many professors should have access to a computer during class time.

Emergency communication devices began to be highly visible on campus in 2008 with the erection of the outdoor siren towers that send out a wail and also provide voice commands and information.

The siren towers were intended to not only warn of active shooters on campus, but of train derailments or severe storms. In fact, the sirens were utilized in spring 2011 when tornadoes ripped through Washington County.

The GoldAlert system has been used to provide the campus community with information about criminal activity reported on or near campus but those alerts are not very frequent.

“Fortunately we haven’t needed to utilize it very much at all,” Kelley said.

Kelley said most colleges analyze their emergency communication capabilities. At ETSU a committee is dedicated to reviewing procedures and finding new ways to get information out to the campus.

“We certainly do our best to do that and there are always ways to improve,” Kelley said.

It is not just mass alert systems that ETSU incorporates into safety programs. There are emergency phones across the campus and security cameras. AEDs are also located at points on campus and soon will be in dormitories.

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