Wayne State University, located in Detroit, ramped up its campus security by deploying a new emergency notification system so faculty, students and staff can receive nearly instantaneous alerts on their mobile devices during a crisis on school grounds.

Last spring, the university deployed a new SMS alert system to send out brief messages to the campus in the event of an emergency, like a school shooting or a campus gas leak. The notification technology was integrated on the back end into an existing alert system the university had in place to send out nonemergency updates. The university sends out updates, for example, when grades get posted or when a student gets taken off a class wait list, said Daren Hubbard, the university’s senior director of enterprise applications.

While the existing system developed in-house was capable of sending out emergency notifications, Hubbard said it wasn't fast enough. It was difficult to quickly send urgent alerts to the 20,000 students, faculty and staff registered to receive them.

“You have situations where things were kind of time sensitive,” Hubbard said. “If it takes 45 to 50 minutes for all the messages to cycle out, then it’s not very effective.”

To help speed up the process, Wayne State contracted with Rave Mobile Safety in April 2013. Three weeks after purchasing the product, the university fully deployed the newer mass notification system. Hubbard said because the in-house notification system is still in place, both the new and old technologies function as two separate platforms “blended together” into one service.

To send out notifications, the Wayne State Police Department and crisis management team can choose from a series of pre-written alerts based on which is most appropriate for the situation at hand, he said. For instance, when the university is experiencing power failures, a pre-written message about the power failure is sent out notifying students and staff that the school will be closed that day.

But not everyone enrolled and working at the campus is required to receive the notifications, Hubbard said. Messages are sent to those who have signed up for the service.

Students, faculty and staff can opt in to the service when they register an account on the university’s portal. Since the university already had a master list of people who opted to receive alerts from the original notification system, those same individuals will automatically receive emergency alerts through the new platform from Rave Mobile Safety when they are sent, Hubbard said.

Since adding the upgraded emergency notification component, Wayne State has not had any campuswide emergencies that would require SMS alerts. But Hubbard said emergencies on university campuses like the 2007 Virginia Tech school shooting have shed light on the need for instant notifications and that setting up such a system should be a top priority for universities.

According to Rave Mobile Safety, other higher education institutions like Illinois State University and Wisconsin Indianhead Technical College have also deployed the SMS notification system.

“The reputation of a higher education institution is its most important asset, and campus safety is vital to ensuring that educators, students and staff are able to focus on their work,” said Rave Mobile Safety President and CEO, Tom Axbey, in a statement.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.