By George Mauzy
Ohio University will test its emergency text-messaging system next week for the first time this fall and the third time since the system went operational last year.
The Office of Information Technology will send a test message Friday, Oct. 24, to the cell phones of all faculty, staff and students who have signed up for the service.
OIT created the text messaging system to serve as a communication tool for the campus community during an emergency affecting the Athens campus only. Regional campus employees and students may sign up for the service if they need to know about Athens campus emergencies.
Anyone who has not already signed up for text messaging can do so at OIT's free online registration site. Those who register before Wednesday, Oct. 22, will be included in the test.
The registration Web site also is the place for past registrants to update their cell phone numbers or service-carrier information whenever either changes.
The day before the test, all registrants should receive a courtesy e-mail announcing the test. Registrants who don't receive the announcement can go the registration site to see if all their information is still current, and update it accordingly. Depending on timing, they may still be able to participate in the test.
Duane Starkey, OIT's director of information technology business services and special projects, said OIT's goal is to test the system every quarter to make sure it is working properly.
"All emergency systems should be routinely tested for safety purposes," Starkey said. "Unlike our previous tests, we will not solicit feedback from all recipients after the test. However, we do want to hear from people who were registered but did not receive the test e-mail."
Emergency text messaging sign-up became available during fall 2007 for students and during winter quarter 2008 for faculty and staff. OIT has tested the system twice, and both times nearly 80 percent of the messages were delivered within 10 minutes. The primary reasons messages didn't reach some registrants were incorrect phone numbers and the lack of text messaging service.
"The first two tests pretty much validated that the system works," said Assistant Vice President for Safety and Risk Management David Hopka.
Hopka said that even though skeptics have voiced concern about whether cellular communications will hold up in a large emergency, he feels text messaging serves an important purpose.
"People have criticized emergency text messaging for its potential lack of dependability and security, and it may not be the panacea some people touted at first," he said. "However, we will still include it as one of our many communication methods because we and other campuses have seen it work for the intended purpose of getting a message out."
For more information on emergency preparedness, personal safety, crime alerts, crisis response and other resources available, visit the Ohio University Emergency Page at www.ohio.edu/emergency.