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Text Messaging Has a Role in Emergencies, but UH Needs Much More To Reach Everyone

Many University of Hawaii students text message one another to stay in touch, but as a key component of UH’s emergency notification procedure, TM is sorely lacking.

Today’s Honolulu Advertiser story lays it out plainly enough: “…UH officials expect only 10 percent of the students to sign up” for TM alerts. Doesn’t that say it all about TM’s role in emergencies?

CHORE made this same point four months ago by quoting a National Public Radio report:
"College administrators are finding that students are not rushing to sign up for cell phone text-message alerts. After the Virginia Tech shootings last spring, many campuses felt this was the answer to keeping their students alert to danger, but students don't share their concerns."

It should come as no surprise to UH officials that students here apparently feel the same. Whether they “don’t care enough” about emergency notification – as one official is quoted in today’s story – isn’t the point. UH must use information channels that actually work!

The Love Affair with Technology

The Advertiser story notes that officials are taking steps beyond TM, but here again, technology is seen as a solution. A warning siren would be “…designed to alert faculty, staff and students and direct them to the UH Web site for more information.”

Always it’s about technology -- the web, TM, wifi. We love technology, too, but let’s get real about its limitations. We’re talking about potentially life-saving information that must be communicated to virtually everyone on campus. Do administrators really believe the Web would be effective? Sure, it's ONE way to communicate, but only one.

Tech-oriented administrators may not want to admit it, but low technology has a major role. Nowhere in the story do officials mention good old-fashioned loud speakers in campus buildings. They don’t mention using the campus radio station or how off-campus broadcasters could relay security messages.

Calling Common Sense

In other words, emergency communications is too important to leave to high-tech gurus. We need a heavy dose of common sense, and while we're at it, the public also needs to see UH's complete emergency communications plan for evidence that common sense is at work.

Shortly after a recent test of text messaging among UH’s faculty, we were told by a UH official that the test had been a success. How do you know, we asked. Because we received the message, was the answer. How many faculty and staff didn’t receive it? The official paused slightly, then said she didn’t know.

Unless UH has created a web of information channels to its community, we have to expect many faculty, staff and students will be ignorant about a potentially life-threatening situation. And that’s not good enough.


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