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BU Alert Test Today

An inconvenience for some, but necessary for safety


Photo by Vernon Doucette

A test of the BU Alert System occurs today, October 12, at 11:50 a.m. The U.S. Department of Education requires that the system be tested annually. The test will be sent to all students, faculty, and staff who have registered their information through the Student or Employee Links.

The BU Alert System is the University’s first-line warning system, used in circumstances where the BU community is at risk.

The emergency notification system works through Send Word Now updates, which are distributed through text messages, phone calls, emails, and updates to BU websites. These updates are critical to the Boston University Police Department’s operations, according to BUPD Chief Thomas Robbins. “They’re able to almost instantly tell students, faculty, and staff about something that could cause harm,” he says. “It’s key.”

The test will evaluate all modes of the emergency alert system—text messages, email, web page banners (seen on bu.edu, BU Today, and the BU Emergency Management website), and voice mail. The Incident Command Team will also run a drill and report to the ICS Bunker, at 25 Buick Street.

The Send Word Now system was implemented in 2008. Since then, 15 campus alerts (including 4 tests) have been sent out, Robbins says. The alerts included warnings about robberies,  a suspected ammunition clip spotted in the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences, and a blackout that trapped students in Warren Tower elevators. The BUPD has 50 state-trained and deputized officers with advanced training in disaster scenarios.

Only 27 percent of faculty and staff have registered their mobile phone numbers with the BU Alert System, according to Peter Fiedler (COM’77), vice president for administrative services. Those faculty and staff members who have not registered their phone number with the University should do so as soon as possible, via the Employee Link, under Personal. “We’d like to impress upon people that in order for this system to be effective, it needs to have everyone’s commitment,” Fiedler says. 

Students are required to register their mobile phone numbers with the BU Alert System, or they are not permitted to register for classes. Students may update their contact information on the Student Link.

Those who have provided their mobile phone numbers and do not receive test messages today are asked to email swn@bu.edu with the message “Failed to receive SWN alert.”

Some say the alerts are bothersome and that they ignore the warnings, which could be dangerous if there were a true emergency. Fiedler stresses that the University is required to deliver these timely warnings if there is any question of danger, for everyone’s safety.

“We need to communicate with people rapidly, and they need to know about how to protect their personal safety and those around them,” Fiedler says. “It’s a wake-up call that you have to be vigilant all the time. Personal safety is something that we’re all aware of. We’re not doing it to hassle people or water down the system. We have the system, we’re mandated to do it, and we want to tell people so they’re more proactive about preventing future crimes and incidents from occurring on campus.” 

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.


4 Comments on BU Alert Test Today

  • Anonymous on 10.12.2010 at 7:17 am

    Cell phones for emergency alerts: phone, not text

    There should be a way to receive a call on a cell phone without also receiving a text message. (Some of us have to pay for each text message we receive.) I was told that this is impossible, and that the only way to avoid receiving text messages was to unregister my cell phone completely from this system. To increase registration of cell phones, this should be fixed.

  • Anonymous on 10.12.2010 at 6:07 pm

    Tiered system

    There should be a tiered response system. Clearly if there is an active shooter scenario or a fire/natural disaster, which is what the system was designed for, then of course extensive alerts should be sent out. BU is in fact located in a city, and I really don’t need 2 text messages, calls on my cell phone, and my office phone to tell me a student was robbed on Comm Ave. A simple e-mail would suffice. Over-use of the system for incidents that while important, do not pose an immediate threat to life and property, will undoubtedly desensitize the community to alerts.

  • Anonymous on 10.15.2010 at 2:07 pm

    Agreed with both comments above.

    1) Let the user choose whether they want text-only, voice-only, email-only, or a combination of alerts. Getting all three is disruptive and encourages people to remove their information entirely.

    2) A tiered system would help greatly. Non-emergencies (like someone getting their phone stolen) should only be received as emails. Save the phone calls and texts for real emergencies.

    The BU emergency system is turning into The Boy Who Cried Wolf. Every time an alert is sent, I groan in anticipation of another non-emergency message.

    I am *this close* to removing my phone number. And I’m sure others have already crossed that threshold.

  • Anonymous on 10.15.2010 at 3:22 pm

    I am a proud graduate of Virginia Tech. In the immediate aftermath of the shooting, the University had trouble reaching us and most of us were unsure of what was happening. We were scared, confused and many of us were shuttled off campus and not allowed back for hours. As a graduate student at BU, I fully appreciate the importance of the BU alert system and I truly believe it has the potential to save lives and alleviate confusion.

    With that said, Boston University is abusing the system. “Coffee and tea will not be served in the cafeteria” is not an emergency alert. Off campus robberies, even those including BU students, is not an emergency alert. This is especially true when notifying us an hour or more after the event is over. I daresay that, “Please call 911 in case of an emergency” is public knowledge.

    My words are harsh for a reason. I was on campus during the worst school shooting in American history and I find myself ignoring your alerts. Why? Because I have gotten three this week alone, none of which qualifies as an emergency. How will other students who have not had my experience respond? A real tragedy would be if something did happen at BU and students ignored the Emergency Alert System.

    My personal advice? The alerts need to be less frequent and need to come in a maximum of two parts. Putting together 5 texts in the correct order takes precious time and energy in an emergency. Students need to be able to chose if we want to be text messaged or called because both is redundant. Details can be sent via email, and only the very basics via text message.

    I have previously tried to email the BU alert service, but no address is listed online and I’m not sure the inbox for bualert@bu.edu is monitored. I sincerely hope someone from the office reads this.

    a proud hokie

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