By George Mauzy
Ohio University will begin using its emergency text messaging system as a notification tool during closures of the Athens campus.
Prior to the change, the Critical Incident Response Team (CIRT) had reserved emergency text messaging for critical situations, such as active shooters, hazardous material spills, evacuations or natural disasters.
“Because of power outages due to the recent winter storm, the decision was made to expand the use of our text messaging system to include Athens campus closures,” said Assistant Vice President for Safety and Risk Management David Hopka. “Since many people didn’t have power, they were not able to access the Web and media outlets, but they could have been informed of the closure in a text message.”
Hopka said campus closures were not originally included in the text messaging plan because the university did not want to give people “text message fatigue.”
The recent spate of severe weather changed officials’ thinking, however.
“Feedback made us realize that text messaging would have been helpful in that instance,” Hopka said, adding that closures are rare enough that they wouldn’t result in text-message overuse.
Staff and students at all six Ohio University campuses can check their campus’ status through local media outlets, the university’s emergency number (740-597-1800) or www.ohio.edu/emergency.
Deans at the university’s five regional campuses make independent decisions about whether to institute a closure or delay at their respective campuses, but their closings will not be announced through the Athens campus-based text messaging system.
Hopka said the regional campuses are not included in the text messaging plans for closures because the current software system does not allow the university to separate registrants by campus, and sending messages involving six different campuses would be unwieldy.
“We are currently exploring options that would allow us to better include the regional campuses in our emergency communications capabilities, however,” Hopka said.
“All of the [regional] campuses have developed emergency plans because security is a major issue and top priority,” said Executive Dean of Regional Campuses Dan Evans. “All of the deans are looking for the best ways to notify their staff and students during an emergency or closure.”
Anyone who has not already signed up for text messaging can do so on the emergency information page at www.ohio.edu/emergency/. Current registrants can visit the site to update their cell phone numbers or service-carrier information when necessary. The Web site also contains information on emergency preparedness, personal safety, crime alerts, crisis response and other emergency resources.
Emergency text messaging sign-up became available during fall 2007 for students and during winter quarter 2008 for faculty and staff.