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Names and Numbers Sought for Send Word Now

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Send Word Now will send messages to students, faculty and staff in emergency situations, says Peter Fiedler, vice president for administrative services. Photo by Fred Sway

In the wake of last April’s deadly shootings at Virginia Tech, Boston University officials have adopted a new emergency notification system, Send Word Now, which in the event of a crisis will transmit voice and text messages to mobile phones, landlines, e-mail systems, and pagers. An effort is now under way to bring all members of the BU community into the system to ensure that all students, faculty, and staff can be reached rapidly.

Three weeks ago, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the Dean of Students sent an e-mail notifying all students that they must log on to the Student Link to provide the University with an emergency telephone number no later than August 24. As of Wednesday, September 5, 64 percent of students — or 23,186 of 36,250 — had not yet provided a number.

“It is absolutely imperative that students comply with this requirement,” says Peter Fiedler, vice president for administrative services. “It is the University’s duty to protect the safety and health of its community.”

Students who do not comply risk being blocked from registering for spring semester classes, says Kenneth Elmore, dean of students. “We don’t want to punish students,” he says, “but we do want them to realize the importance of the situation. Rest assured that Send Word Now is not an advertising tool and will only be used in emergencies.”

While faculty and staff members are not required to provide emergency contact numbers, Fiedler strongly advises that they do so through the Employee Link. As of September 5, only 16 percent of employees — or 2,291 of 14,695 — had registered.

In the event of an emergency, Send Word Now will use text messaging, e-mail, and call bridging (similar to conference calling) to contact BU community members. The message will describe the situation and provide instructions on what to do. 

“The most important thing you can do is read the message thoroughly,” Fiedler says. “It will tell you everything you need to know to ensure safety. We don’t want people to panic.”

Those who don’t have a cellular phone, he says, should provide a landline number. However, it must be a direct, not a department, line. If neither a cell nor a landline is available, the message will be sent via e-mail. Additionally, it will be posted on the BU homepage, the BU Emergency Management Web page, and BU Today, as well as broadcast on the BU cable television system.

Boston University Police Department (BUPD) dispatchers will most likely write the message, and BUPD officers will be the first responders, says Chief Thomas Robbins. The department has 50 state-trained and deputized officers with advanced training in active shooting scenarios, which is the term used to describe the events that took place at Virginia Tech last spring.
 
“As we learned from Virginia Tech, time is key in any critical situation,” Robbins says. “The University researched a number of vendors, and Send Word Now was the most advanced system in terms of speed and efficiency.”

The April 16 shootings on the Blacksburg, Va., campus marked the nation’s worst school massacre to date, leaving 33 dead. A report released last week by an external panel commissioned by Virginia Governor Tim Kaine strongly criticized Virginia Tech’s emergency response plan, saying that failure to communicate the danger in a timely fashion ultimately cost lives.

Among the more than 70 recommendations issued by the panel were updating the campus emergency planning, broadening the campus threat assessment team, providing annual response training to students and staff, and sharing information more quickly during an emergency. The report also included recommendations for choosing an emergency notification system.

At BU, the training and response process is already under way. Last week, the Office of Residence Life participated in a limited test of the Send Word Now system, and sometime in October, the University will launch a campuswide test. Fiedler says that all students, staff, and faculty will be given advance warning before the test takes place. 

“We take the safety of our community very seriously,” Elmore says. “I hope we never, ever have to use Send Word Now. But it’s reassuring to know it’s there if we need it.”

Additional information about Send Word Now is available here.

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.